Lieutenant Colonel Esther Harrop, the New Zealand Defence Force’s Senior National Officer in South Sudan, engages with children at a Protection of Civilians site in Juba that accommodates about 32,000 displaced people.
8 March 2017
More women than ever are serving overseas for the New Zealand Defence Force in war zones, on peacekeeping missions and other international deployments.
While women make up about 16 per cent of the NZDF’s Regular Force, the number overseas is about 20 per cent of the 495 personnel deployed. That is the highest level since the Human Rights (Women in Armed Forces) Amendment Act 2007 was passed, removing a provision that allowed the Defence Force to restrict women’s involvement in combat and other front-line roles.
And as the world celebrates International Women’s Day, some of the women serving overseas say the equal opportunities for training and promotion are responsible for the increasing number of women deployed or serving as commanders.
Of the women deployed overseas, some are serving in the Middle East or in war zones like Iraq, while others are on a six-month deployment to the Asia-Pacific region as crew members of the Navy frigate HMNZS Te Kaha and replenishment tanker Endeavour.
Able Medic Koryn Berriman, one of three medics on Te Kaha, said: “Seeing an increasing number of women in positions of command and on overseas missions is an inspiration to me.”
Flight Lieutenant Erica Riddle, the Logistics Officer of the NZDF’s maritime security operation in the Middle East, said: “In my 15 years with the NZDF I have seen opportunities for women improve across the three Services.
“I am proud that I work for an organisation where gender is not a factor in decision-making, training or career progression.”
Lieutenant Colonel Esther Harrop, the NZDF’s Senior National Officer in South Sudan, said working with a female officer was a novel thing for some of the military personnel in the United Nations Mission, the 12,000-strong multinational peacekeeping force established when the East African country became the world’s newest nation in July 2011.
“When I leave here, I know I have helped change people’s perceptions about women on operations,” Lieutenant Colonel Harrop said. “We are every bit as capable in this environment as our male colleagues.
“I am confident in my own abilities and I know I have gained respect on this mission by working hard and doing a good job – nothing to do with my gender.”
However, though the gender gap might have narrowed some hurdles remain and there is a feeling more can still be done. One woman soldier helping train Iraqi Security Forces at Camp Taji described one of the challenges: “You have to put in more work to stand out from the males.”
Lieutenant Colonel Harrop said sometimes people made assumptions about women’s aspirations based on their own world views.
“So judgments can be made based on whether you’re a mother, whether you’re married, how many kids you have, etc.