News Stories

The Role of Female Personnel in National Security and Peacekeeping: Alumni Share Their Perspective

By Alyssa Lodge & Simone Bak


Australian Pilots

Several initiatives at National Defense University (NDU) this past year have highlighted the increasing role of women in national security and peacekeeping operations.  In commemoration of International Women’s day in March, NDU ran a series of lecture from experts in the field of women, peace, and security.  NDU Press published an in-depth monograph, "Women on the Frontlines of Peace and Security", in conjunction with the Georgetown Institute on Women, Peace and Security. More recently, NDU Library has released a new website dedicated to scholarship and research on the subject. These projects and conversations highlight several key points:  Gender awareness in military and Peacekeeping Operations is essential as women’s voices and perspective represent 50% of any given community1; women gather human intelligence more effectively than men in certain contexts2; and women tend to bring a different perspective than men in military and peacekeeping conversations, often providing more holistic viewpoints and increased capacity for understanding.3

As many of NDU’s international alumni come from services that involve women in senior leadership, the International Student Management Office sought an alumni response to the topic of women in peacekeeping and security efforts. Alumni from Australia, Thailand, Nigeria, and Suriname offer an overview of policies and practices of incorporating female personnel in military and police forces. Additionally, they give their insights as leaders on the role of women in their organizations.

Alumni Profile: The Nigerian Police Force (NPF)

Brief Overview:

  • Women make up 20.1% of the NPF,4 with 5% serving as senior officers.5
  • Recruitment standards vary for men and women. While the same physical, intellectual, and character tests are administered to both, additional eligibility standards for women prevent pregnant or married women from entering the NPF. Once in the NPF, female officers must request permission from their supervisor before marrying. Nigerian officials say the reason for this is that women are more likely than men to be corrupted by a marriage arrangement, a policy that is supported at a rate exceeding 50% for both genders within the NPF.6
  • Few women serve in senior leadership within the NPF, and no formal support groups exist specifically for female personnel, though their institution is often suggested by outside organizations.7 Additionally, the growing presence of women in senior leadership suggests the presence of encouraging examples for younger women considering long term careers within the NPF.

Biola Shotunde

Leader Profile: Ms. Biola Shotunde, CISA Cass of 2015

Head of Department for Strategic Analysis in the Economic and Financial Crime Commission.

For Ms. Biola Shotunde, anyone possessing proper qualifications and experience is a valuable asset, and special attention should be given to women’s roles in NPF strategy.   Gender policies in the NPF and elsewhere should be enforced as a joint effort on “political, operational, and tactical levels,” with a “downward cascading” momentum that she believes will change cultural norms concerning female service in law enforcement.  

One example in which Ms. Shotunde says women are effective in the NPF is anti-corruption efforts, as a long-standing ethical decline in NPF ranks caused the Nigerian government to take action on the issue. Ms. Shotunde says that male leadership spearheaded the effort initially and was overly aggressive and reactive, focusing on jailing the individuals indicted on corruption charges. However, a later change in the Nigerian political landscape put a woman in charge.  In addition to reacting to crimes, the female leader took a preventative approach and focused on holistic causes of corruption. This highlights a difference between male and female leadership, she says. Men possess “passion, energy, and tactics” but women generally go beyond the immediate problem and try to evaluate and understand a problem before taking action.

Ms. Shotunde believes that gender policies in national defense and police forces cannot be gender blind.  She believes that gender makes all the difference when building a good team. “Security is local, domestic… [and] everyone wants a secure environment.” In this context, women play an essential role.  To policy makers and leaders worldwide, she recommends the subject of women in peacekeeping and security becomes a more public debate. To women entering the field, she advises them to “stay true to who you are. [If you do], you’ll be able to [hold] the treasure of balancing [many] issues...All you can give the world is peace.”8

Alumni Profile: The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)

Brief Overview:

  • Active in the RAAF since the 1940s,9  women currently make up 18% of RAAF personnel. As of January 2015, 2.8% of RAAF pilots are women,10 and 117 female personnel are deployed on overseas operations.11
  • The RAAF actively recruits women into its ranks. Salient reasons for this include increasing the size of the recruitment pool12 and the official view that a diverse fighting force increases the successes of military operations.13
  • In January 2013, the ADF lifted gender restrictions on all defense jobs, including those barring women from front-line combat.14 The RAAF enforces the same entry standards for men and women with adjustments made based on both age and gender.15
  • RAAF is included in the armed force’s Gender Diversity Strategy. Specific programs include special websites, support groups, high school engagement programs and seminars dedicated to the recruitment, retention, and promotion of female military personnel.16

Donald Sutherland

Leader Profile: Group Captain Donald Sutherland, NWC Class of 2015

Director of Air Mobility Division

If the female population of Australia isn’t actively recruited, says GPCAPT Sutherland, then Australia loses 50% of its available fighting force. When GPCAPT Sutherland joined the RAAF, most of the jobs for women were administrative, medical or logistical; the challenge recruiters now face is enlisting women to join all aspects of the RAAF.  RAAF employs creative tactics to further this mission. For instance, GPCAPT Sutherand points to the successful week-long summer aviation program for high-school girls. Inaugurated in 2013, the program gives girls the opportunity to fly simulators and train on aircrafts and educates them on post-graduation RAAF career paths.

The outcome of these programs, says GPCAPT Sutherland, is an increase in the war-fighting talent pool. GPCAPT Sutherland believes that the structure and requirements of air force careers mean that women and men can do all jobs equally. He thinks that decisions on who leads should be gender blind, though he acknowledges women may at times view situations from a different perspective than men.  “Different perspectives are good in putting complex pictures together and coming up with a course of action,” he says. At the end of the day, when a leader makes a decision, the RAAF expectation is that people will do what they are told regardless of the leader’s gender. “Our women leaders have been very strong,” says GPCAPT Sutherland. "It's transparent."17

Alumni Profile: The Royal Thai Armed Forces

Brief Overview:

  • The majority of roles available to women in the Thai armed forces are currently civilian, administrative or medical.18 Military service is optional for women (done on a volunteer basis), and compulsory for men.19 
  • Active recruitment of women in combat operations occurs on an ad-hoc basis.  Leaders prefer the flexibility to choose women or men for certain military initiatives where the choice of one is more useful than the other.20 For instance, during the 2007 rebellion in the South, Thailand faced a security breach when male security personnel refused to touch Muslim female protesters for fear of violating religious regulations. Thailand’s response was to recruit and train women to deal with the female rebels, increasing the level of female personnel in the southern provinces from 24 to 300.21
  • There is currently talk of developing a female cadet program, however negative societal opinions concerning the cadet program have made it difficult to execute.22

Suwanchai Cha-aim

Leader Profile: Colonel Suwanchai Cha-aim, CISA Class of 2014

Deputy Director, International Security Cooperation Division, Office of Policy and Planning, Ministry of Defense of Thailand.

COL Cha-aim suggests that governments ought to provide the “full range of courses to build military skills for which women can play a role in contributing to… security issues.” “The involvement of women is important” in non-traditional security efforts, he says.  He cites the example of “the [rise] of communism during the 60’s as “the beginning of non-traditional Asymmetric Warfare threats for us.” In this context, local populations became a central focus for Thai military and intelligence operations. To mitigate problems caused by “insufficiencies” of a traditional warfighting strategy, Thailand instituted a “successful (policy)... of recruitment of women to the military as volunteers (paramilitary). Though they were also trained in combat operations… the main objective was to be an alternative infiltration to the villagers. With a gentle look and less aggressive (demeanor) compared with male personnel” they accessed the local populations in a way that men could not, retrieving needed information for the Thai government.23

Leader Profile: Ms. Manthana (Max) Masmalai, CISA Class of 2008

Analyst for the Bureau of International Security Affairs in the Office of the National Security Council of Thailand.    

According to Ms. Manthana (Max) Masmalai, women in Thailand are historically the targets of gender based violence, so they “tend to understand how to develop solving conflicts.” Women also tend to take the role of a “mother figure” in conflict issues, she says, serving as a conduit of care, trust, and nonviolence. This has demonstrably positive impacts on Thailand’s intelligence operations and participation in peacekeeping efforts abroad.  UNSCR 1325 strongly impacts Thailand’s security policies, and under its auspices the country established a gender-specific code of conduct on peacekeeping missions. Because she believes that women approach situations from a different perspective than men, being gender-blind would not benefit national security policies. Security institutions should “integrate women and gender considerations into education training, (which) helps promote democratic governance and long-term stability.”24

Alumni Profile: The Suriname Defense Organization (SDO)

Brief Overview:

  • Women make up 6.13% of Suriname Defense Organization (SDO) forces. Currently, 243 female personnel operate in the SDO and hold administrative, logistical, health care, or intelligence positions. Women are barred from combat positions due to concerns surrounding their physical, tactical and psychological capabilities.
  • 18 Women (11.6%) hold the title of Officer. The highest rank for women is Lieutenant Colonel.25
  • A proposal for a female-specific mentoring, leadership and management training program along with a 2014 initiative for a Leadership Symposium for women is being discussed within the SDO to promote female leadership. However, no recruiting programs yet exist specific to women.26

Danielle Veira

Leader Profile: Lieutenant Colonel Danielle Veira, CISA Class of 2015

Deputy Director Ministry of Defense of Suriname, responsible for Personnel & General Affairs.

LTC Danielle Veira commends the UN for the creation of UNSCR 1325 and for the resolution’s broad global impact. This is specifically true in Suriname, where the Gender Focal Point Office now has a common gender plan for defense organizations and has made bringing women into strategic positions its main priority. While operational positions are not open to women, there are a growing number of positions in which women have the opportunity to play a crucial role.

Part of increasing women’s opportunities to contribute to SDO activities starts with changing the recruitment process. Initial recruitment efforts, says LTC Veira, should take gender into consideration, an approach known as positive discrimination. Positive discrimination is good as a starting tool, she says, because it allows the SDO to even out quotas and provide an understanding that women and men are equally capable to hold the roles for which they are being recruited. She cites the example of the Suriname educational system, in which gender-specific recruiting efforts led to high numbers of female enrollment to the point where female students now outnumber their male counterparts. Her conclusion is that similar efforts in the SDO would also increase female enrollment if the SDO chooses to embark on this direction. After a period of gender-focused recruiting, LTC Veira suggests working towards long term gender blindness. In her words, attitudes toward gender recruitment in the SDO comes down to a “paradigm shift [that] still needs to happen.”  

LTC Veira worked her way up from legal studies to her current position, remarking that the progress was not easy. She commented that moving up within her organization is difficult due to gender restraints. “You need to work very hard and should not compromise what you think is right.”  She advises women who are in her field to “understand (their) power” because “entering a male dominated environment (does not mean) that you need to become a man.” Women have strategic power and valuable “female influence” that are essential. “For [those] that will become leaders… we should not look only at the sex of people before we know what they are capable of doing and really implement all [their] assets to reach the goal.”27 


[1] Rodham Clinton, Hillary, and Leon Panetta. "Foreward." Foreword. Women on the Frontlines of Peace and Security. Washington, D.C.: National Defense UP, 2015. Viii-Xi. Print..

[2] "Women, Peace, and Security- Implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in the Irish Defense Forces." The National Defense University, Washington, D.C. 24 Feb. 2015. Lecture.

[3] Steinberg, Donald. "Looking through the Gender Lens: More." Women on the Frontlines of Peace and Security (2015). The National Defense University Press. Web. 25 May 2015.

[4] Ford, Harry. Occasional Paper 23. Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, 2008. Web. 25 May 2015. P 28

[5] Prenzler, Tim and Sinclair, Georgina (2013). The status of women police officers: an international review.

International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice, 41(2) pp. 115–131.

[6] Ford, Harry. Occasional Paper 23. Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, 2008. Web. 25 May 2015. P 29

[7] Ibid, 30.

[8] Interview with Ms. Biola Shotunde, 10 March 2015.

[9] "Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) and Women's Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF)." The Australian War Memorial. Web. 25 May 2015.

[10] "Female Pilots." Our People. The Royal Australian Air Force. Web. 25 May 2015.

[11] "Diversity in the Air Force - Royal Australian Air Force." The Royal Australian Air Force. The Royal Australian Air Force, n.d. Web. 25 May 2015.

[12] Interview with Group Captain Donald Sutherland, 13 March 2015.

[13] "Diversity in the Air Force - Royal Australian Air Force." The Royal Australian Air Force. The Royal Australian Air Force, n.d. Web. 25 May 2015.

[14] "Lifting of Gender Restrictions in the Australian Defense Force." Defense News and Media. The Australian Government Department of Defense. Web. 25 May 2015.

[15] "Fitness Guidelines." Royal Australian Air Force. The Royal Australian Air Force, n.d. Web. 25 May 2015.

[16]"Diversity in the Air Force - Royal Australian Air Force." The Royal Australian Air Force. The Royal Australian Air Force, n.d. Web. 25 May 2015. 

[17] Interview with Group Captain Donald Sutherland, 13 March 2015

[18] Interview with Colonel Suwanchai Cha-aim. 23 March 2015.

[19] "Thailand." World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency, 18 May 2015. Web. 25 May 2015.

[20] Interview with Colonel Suwanchai Cha-aim. 23 March 2015.

[21] Hawkins, David. "Thailand's Female Army Recruits - 19 Nov 07." YouTube. YouTube/Al Jazeera English, 19 Nov. 2007. Web. 25 May 2015.

[22] Interview with Colonel Suwanchai Cha-aim, 23 March 2015

[23] Ibid

[24] Interview with Ms. Manthana Masmalai, 20 March 2015

[25] According to Suriname’s 2014 Personnel Reports. Interview with Lieutenant Colonel Danielle Veira. 20 May 2015.

[26] “Suriname. Ministry of Defense. Women in the Suriname Defense Organization: The Challenges and Successes. 2012. Print.

[27] Interview with Lieutenant Colonel Danielle Veira, 20 May 2015

Academic News

Save the Date: NDU's next Alumni Seminar in Washington D.C.
By Simone Bak | Nov. 17, 2016
Join fellow National Defense University graduates for a unique opportunity to discuss critical security issues in the world and connect with former classmates and colleagues.
The Role of Female Personnel in National Security and Peacekeeping
By Alyssa Lodge & Simone Bak | Aug. 25, 2015
Several initiatives at National Defense University (NDU) this past year have highlighted the

Alumni News

Update: 2017 Quadrennial IF Alumni Security Seminar & Reunion
By Devin Hess | June 29, 2017
The U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has signed and sent the invitations to your Chiefs of Defense (CHOD) inviting you - the NDU IF Alumni - to the 2017 Quadrennial International Alumni Security Seminar & Reunion in Washington, D.C.
Save the Date: NDU's next Alumni Seminar in Washington D.C.
By Simone Bak | Nov. 17, 2016
Join fellow National Defense University graduates for a unique opportunity to discuss critical security issues in the world and connect with former classmates and colleagues.