BARRIO – Dressed in camouflage, Zulma Stefania Perez reflected on her first weeks of training at a military base in the capital — and on her life as one of Colombia’s first female recruits in more than two decades.
“The physical drills we must endure are the same” as those for men, she said. “Being women doesn’t make us less capable. In fact, there are many skills and strengths we have that men may not have.”
Perez, 24, is part of a cohort of 1,296 women who enlisted in Colombia’s army in February, when the South American country opened military service to women for the first time in 25 years.
Colombia has long had compulsory military service for men ages 18 to 24. The army relies heavily on those young recruits to staff bases, protect infrastructure and carry out administrative tasks, while its professional soldiers confront drug trafficking gangs and rebel groups.
This year, officials allowed females in the same age range to voluntary join the military, in what the army says is part of an effort to “strengthen the role of women” in its ranks.
Recruits must live on military bases for several months and earn a monthly stipend of only about $75, but some of the women in the new program hope it helps them build a career in the armed forces. They see it as a chance for a stable job and educational opportunities.
“I like the lessons we get here about human rights, and international humanitarian law, because that’s my field of expertise” said Perez, who a has a law degree but has struggled to find work in the legal profession.
She said that after her basic training she will likely get a job in the military’s judicial affairs department.