Development & Aid, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population

WOMEN-CHILE: First Female General, a Landmark in Gender Equality

Gustavo Gonzalez

SANTIAGO, Nov 17 1998 (IPS) - Mireya Perez became the first female general of Chile’s Carabineros military police Tuesday, marking a milestone for gender equality not only in Chile, but in Latin America as a whole.

After a 30-year career in the Carabineros, Perez, age 49, was presented with her new epaulettes by Carabineros Director-General Manuel Ugarte.

The militarised police force came under the Defence Ministry during the 1973-90 dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, and thus forms part of the armed forces and forces of public order according to the 1980 constitution.

With the exception of Cuba and Nicaragua, whose armies arose from irregular forces and have women commanders, there are no other cases of women in high-ranking military positions in Latin America.

Gen. Perez – a mother of two young teenagers – has headed the Office of Police Protection for the Family since March 1996, when she was promoted to colonel. The office was created in the early 1990s to deal with cases of domestic violence.

The Carabineros began to admit women in 1962, when an earthquake that devastated three southern Chilean regions led to a need for reinforcements in social and rescue work to attend thousands of survivors of the tragedy.

During the Pinochet regime, women were admitted to the armed forces, to do military service – voluntary in the case of women – or to join the ranks of officers and non-commissioned officers.

But the police forces are in the lead when it comes to integrating women, after legal reforms enacted since the restoration of democracy in 1990 enabled women to rise to high- ranking positions.

In 1962, 104 female sergeants were admitted to the Carabineros. Drawn by a TV ad, Perez joined in 1968, after finding out that she met the requisites for applying to the School of Carabineros.

Today there are 1,500 female Carabineros in Chile. Most of them have been assigned to directing traffic and dealing with cases of domestic violence, street children and run-aways. But in the past few years, women have also been assigned to crime prevention and law enforcement work, along with female members of the ‘Servicio de Investigaciones’ (civilian police investigations office).

A new tactic put into effect this year was female “police decoys” staked out in areas where women are frequently targetted by rapists and thieves.

But the area in which female Carabineros have gained the most prestige is in the prevention of domestic abuse and intra-family sexual violence. The Carabineros began to work systematically in that area in accordance with laws on child abuse and domestic violence passed since Chile returned to democracy in 1990.

Women Carabineros were previously only promoted to the rank of sergeant-major, the highest ranking non-commissioned officer. But in 1975 women began to be promoted to the rank of officers.

That same year, women Carabineros began to be trained as experts in criminology. And in 1979 several female officers were designated master equestrians – a discipline in which the Carabineros have traditionally stood out.

In 1990, women were authorised to enter the Police Academy.

The latest reform took place on Jul. 11 of this year, when a spot was created for a woman general. On that day, the number of female colonels rose from one to three, and the number of female lieutenant-colonels, majors, captains and second-lieutenants also rose.

On Nov. 2, Perez was promoted to general, and her promotion was approved by President Eduardo Frei. The number of female generals is expected to increase over the next few years, although the possibility of a woman rising to the top rank of Director General of the Carabineros still looks like a distant prospect.

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