December 14, 2023
Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) commander, recognized Papua New Guinea Defence Force’s (PNGDF) advancements in gender inclusivity within its ranks, underscoring the country’s emergence as a regional beacon for Women’s Peace and Security.
During her Indo-Pacific tour, Van Ovost engaged with senior PNGDF leaders to further action on the U.S.-PNG Defense Cooperation Agreement and celebrated the island’s commitment to readiness and regional stability.
“Today’s dialogue with PNG’s gender focal points and advisors in uniform was truly inspiring,” Van Ovost said. “They are trailblazers who exemplify our united effort to build a more inclusive and empowered defense force.”
Members of the PNGDF received specialized training from March 21-23 to improve gender equity and equality within its operations. The training was designed to address and reduce gender-based violence and improve gender-centric considerations in response to crises, including natural disasters.
The course included participants from a variety of PNGDF career fields, such as military police, engineering, chaplains, and medical and health services. During the training, 30 students—comprised of both men and women— learned how to integrate gender considerations effectively into military planning and operations, especially in response to natural disasters.
“There is a direct correlation between the strength of your nation, the civility of your nation and the ability for all voices to be heard, all tribes, all genders,” said Van Ovost. “You are the linchpin for this nation and defense force, going forward to try and help others understand that.”
Van Ovost, who has navigated similar challenges throughout her nearly 40-year career, shared her journey during the event and highlighted the importance of perseverance. “Through persistence and support, I found a path to ‘yes,’” she reflected, connecting her experiences to the broader narrative of women’s evolving roles in defense.
PNGDF Capt. Nita Jennifer Bayagu, who had attended the event, noted, “It was a very meaningful gathering. A way forward for the PNGDF as well.”
As PNG gender focal points and advisors continue to lead the charge in the Indo-Pacific region, the country stands as a testament to the power of transformative gender-focused military training and its far-reaching impact on peace and security.
PNGDF Maj. Grace Kitoneka, the defense force’s gender committee chairperson, said, “We are working towards creating a working environment which safeguards the interest and wellbeing of our personnel, particularly our female personnel so that both women and men can contribute meaningfully to nation-building and regional security.
“That can be done through gender mainstreaming in institutionalizing and operationalizing gender perspective in all areas of training and operations,” she continued.
Gender focal points, according to the U.N. Women’s Training Centre, are individuals whose role is “advocating for increased attention of gender equality and women’s empowerment in [an] agency’s policy and programming.”
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