Recently, the U.S. Army dropped the ban on women in combat arms military occupation specialties, which was a huge step forward for women in the military. As the U.S. Army takes a bold move with dropping the ban, the Botswana Defense Force is making similar personnel changes by having a Woman’s Integration working group to allow Botswanan females a chance to be enlisted soldiers within the BDF.
During the working group, Col. Sara V. Simmons, U.S. Army Africa G1 director, and Sgt. Maj. Carolina D. Johnson, USARAF equal opportunity sergeant major, traveled to the BDF Headquarters from April 5 through 12 to share their successes and also some of the challenges women currently still have in the U.S. Army.
“We went down to talk with members of the BDF to establish a women’s integration work group that consisted of about 35 males and females. The leadership wanted to have enlisted females a part of BDF. Currently [there are only female] officers. When you integrate females into a force, you’re going to make sure that integration is seamless and it doesn’t disrupt the balance or the morale of current force,” Simmons, a Johns Island, S.C. native said.
In order to have the working groups, USARAF responded to a request from the BDF chief of defense forces stating the leadership was interested in integrating more women into the BDF. Currently, the BDF has approximately 100 female officers and now they want to broaden it with having enlisted females. Simmons said they went to Botswana to share not only personal experiences but also how the U.S. Army transitioned from 1775.
“During the week, we looked at the different challenges they would have. We want to help them be successful when they integrate the enlisted females into the force. We looked at everything from housing, their current training infrastructure, their instructors, recruiting and retention, women’s health issues -- we looked at a myriad of factors that will impact the success of enlisting the females into the Botswana Defense Forces,” Simmons said.
U.S Ambassador to Botswana Michelle D. Gavin said she could not agree more with the BDF leadership who have concluded that superior performance does not relate to gender, and that not only the officer ranks but also the enlisted ranks benefit from having women serve alongside men in the military.
“Barriers restraining women’s ability to add value to an organization remain in place only to the detriment of that organization. It is common sense to use your entire pool of talent to build the strongest possible organization. Passion to serve is not tied to whether you are a man or women, but it is what is in your heart; it is in your commitment to country; and, it is in the talents you bring to the fight. On these measures, men and women walk the same path. This has not been, and it will not soon be an easy path. Not in the United States, nor in Botswana,” Gavin said.
Johnson said the workshops helped identify some of the challenges and opportunities and to mitigate any issues that may occur. Even though the idea to integrate women will be a slow process, Johnson said she was humbled to have an opportunity to be a part of the working groups.
“Work groups came up with topics as well as courses of action and recommendations, and we just facilitated using some of the U.S. Army’s methods of decision making. Women’s integration is important because they get the opportunity to be inclusive not only with just males, but have the opportunity to bring more skills sets, ideas and concepts to the Botswana force, which will enhance the mission. This was just the first mile of the marathon and I think it’s only going to get better as we continue to progress,” Johnson, a Marianna, Fla. native said.
Simmons said she looks forward to the progress the BDF will make with the integration, but she knows in order to have success, Botswana will have to overcome cultural norms that see women as caretakers, not warriors.
“They’re [BDF] are going to say how are they are going to effectively utilize and manage females so they don’t totally break their tradition and their cultures and their norm. The females that were [in the working groups] were very interested and they were all ready for total integration, even in the combat units – they’re ready to go forward. It was very gratifying and a very productive meeting so it was great to be a part of something that is so much bigger than yourself,” Simmons said.