WIIS Portugal Team

Ana Gomes

President, WIIS Portugal
Ana Gomes

President, WIIS Portugal

Ana Gomes is a long-time member of WIIS and a Portuguese diplomat who served as ambassador in Jakarta (1999-2004) and have been a Member of the European Parliament for the last 15 years, serving in the Foreign Affairs Committees, Security and Defense Subcommittee, Delegation for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and also in the Delegation for the Relations with the USA.

About WIIS Portugal


To create a policy group that will share best practices and develop new techniques in the field of international security, whose members are women and whose beneficiaries are the nation of Portugal, Europe, the trans-Atlantic community, and the international community.

Opportunity / Advantages

Portugal is an ally, a founding member of NATO, and one of the U.S.’s strongest trans-Atlantic partners.  A Portuguese chapter of Women in International Security (WIIS) will further the organization’s goals to advance leadership and professional development of women in the fields of international peace and security.  It will broaden and deepen the network WIIS has already established, through the contributions of Portuguese women in law enforcement, government, security, and other sectors who have great value to add in leadership, mentoring, networking, and developing solutions to policy problems.  Creating WIIS Portugal will also fulfill a top priority of Portugal’s administration:  women’s empowerment.  Once established, the Chapter will be able to play a strong role in influencing Portuguese and European security policy because Portugal already has great relationships with many international bodies.  Portugal is also the official headquarters of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), an international organization and political association of Lusophone nations across four continents where Portuguese is an official language.  Establishing a chapter of WIIS in Portugal will provide a strong base from which to have outreach in these Portuguese-speaking countries.

Issues / Risks

While there are many women who could contribute to WIIS Portugal, currently there is no overarching structure to bring them all together.  Establishing this chapter will be a strong first step to eliminating this coordination issue.  Portuguese organizations have much to learn from each other and from international organizations.

Expected Results

  • A well-networked, influential chapter within Portugal, Europe, the trans-Atlantic community, and beyond;
  • A forum for empowering and mentoring women in the fields of international security.

Meeting Notes

Second Meeting- 22nd October 2019

On 22nd October 2019 WIIS-PORTUGAL had its second meeting, at the FLAD (Luso-American Foundation for Development) headquarters in Lisbon.
Several women in top positions in internal and external security and defense, from government, armed forces, security forces and academia have attended, including the Defense Secretary of State, Ms. Ana Santos Pinto.
The guest of honor was General Regina Mateus (MD Surgeon), the first woman promoted to the top rank in the Portuguese Armed Forces and currently the Director of the Portuguese Armed Forces Hospital.
Air Force General Regina Mateus, MD Surgeon
General Regina Mateus recalled Portugal had parachutist women nurses in the Colonial War since 1960, who were extraordinary pioneers, although they were not members of the military. 1988 was the year in which women were finally accepted in the Portuguese Armed Forces. Nowadays they make with around 12% of the military.
She described her own progression since she joined the Military Academy in 1993, already graduated as an MD Surgeon. What attracted her to the military was her search for a stable job and one which would afford her the possibility to develop her practice as a surgeon. She raised in the Air Force participating in numerous humanitarian and defense missions in Portugal but also in Africa, Europe and Afghanistan. She conducted numerous health evaluation missions for NATO. She never felt discriminated in the Air Force, although she admitted that belonging to an elite specialized corps helped explain it . She felt that, in the beginning, there was even some kind of positive discrimination towards women in the Air Force. However, in other branches of the Armed Forces, the situation was different.
She noted the access of women into the military had a very positive impact in the general behavior of military men. She also stressed the importance of having women in military missions not only because of their ability to reach out to other women, namely in the local population, but also for their indispensability in missions in countries where, for cultural or religious reasons, only women can render medical, humanitarian or other services to local women. She thought that sometimes women elicited discrimination, for instance, by attempting to skip heavy duty. She recalled when her male colleagues would patronize women soldiers, preferring not to have them assigned to front line missions in order not to have “to worry about them”. Nowadays, all inquiries to young women participating in National Defense Day (enlistment promotion) did show a majority of them declaring their wish to be assigned to front line combat.
1st Sergeant Maria Campinos was also invited to share her recent experience in the Centro-African Republic, with the Portuguese battalion integrating the UN forces. She was there for 6 months leading a team of drivers of armored trucks and was commended for her performance in extremely hard conditions in a mission which integrated 8 other women. She noted the importance of the participation of women in the mission for the relationship they could establish with the local population, and the valuable intelligence thus collected, namely from the local women, as well as the information they could also effectively impart to the people.
1st Sergeant Maria Campino
She had chosen to go into the military as she came from a poor family with numerous children, was used to work hard since her childhood and wanted a career which would ensure economic independence. She described her own progression in the Army specializing in truck driving and mechanics, always experiencing strong competitiveness from male colleagues in a field where there were few women (in her recruit intake, only 10 out of 110 were women). It was extremely hard and competitive and she understood she needed to excell and work even harder than others. She thus had been able to choose to join Cavalry. She always behaved very consciously of her responsibility as a role model for women and also for men, since they felt stimulated to measure up to her level. She had developed a cold and professional personality inside the Army, while being a normal and joyful woman outside duty. Worse than discrimination, she thought, were the lack of conditions suitable to women in some branches of the military, namely in suitable barrack dormitories and bathsrooms, adequate uniforms and shoes and also the difficulty to conciliate professional duties and family life.
This difficulty to conciliate family life with professional duty was identified as a major impediment to have more women joining the Armed Forces and participating in missions abroad. But an impediment that, more and more, is also discouraging men, concurred other military women around the table.
The Defense Secretary of State, Ms. Ana Santos Pinto, stressed that this is a question that must be considered in determining what is the ambition and the mission attributed to the National Armed Forces: if they are to exist and perform as expected, they must enlist and equip both men and women. The growing problem of scarcity of recruits, both men and women, speaks volumes about the urgency to politically address this fundamental question.

First Meeting- 12th July 2019

On 12th July 2019 WIIS-Portugal had its first meeting, at the FLAD (Luso-American Foundation for Development) headquarters in Lisbon.
Several women in top positions in security and defense, in government and academia have attended, including the Secretary of State for Defense, the Director General of the Border Police and the 1st Portuguese woman General (Air Force).
Herro Mustafa was the Guest Speaker
Herro Mustafa told WIIS-Portugal of her extraordinary life story, as an Iraqi Kurdish refugee who became a US top diplomat. She has just been appointed US Ambassador in Bulgaria and is ending her term as Deputy Chief of Mission in the US Embassy in Lisbon, a position she took in 2016.
Herro grew up in Minot, North Dakota. Her family story is the subject of the documentary film “American Herro
A career member of the Foreign Service, Herro worked in the Office of the Vice President from 2009-2011, providing counsel on Middle East and South and Central Asia. Earlier Washington assignments included Deputy Director of the Afghanistan Office; Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs; Director for Iran, Israeli-Palestinian Affairs and Jordan at the National Security Council from 2005-2006; and NSC Director for Iraq and Afghanistan from 2004-2005. Overseas, before her Lisbon assignment, she served as U.S. Civilian Coordinator in Mosul, Iraq; Consular Officer in Beirut, Lebanon; Political Officer in Athens, Greece and Political Minister Counselor at Embassy New Delhi, India.
These were main lessons of her experience that Herro shared with WIIS-Portugal:
You have to be good at what you do. No substitute for that.
. You need skills. Not enough to be smart. It is about what makes you different.
. Speak up, even if you are the most junior person in the room.
. Be confident. Especially with men present. Confidence builds confidence.
. Learn to be a good manager. Management impacts on perception.
. In negotiations try to approach them neutrally and come up with solutions.
. Stimulate diversity in views, that will only improve outcome.
. Still a man’s world, but never forget to involve/empower the women around.
. Know your capital, your HQ, how it works, what makes it work.
. Think big and aim high: it is doable.
A very lively exchange followed among the participants, with comments drawn from personal and professional experiences.

Third Meeting - 19th February 2020

Ambassador Graça Mira Gomes, Secretary General of SIRP (Intelligence System of the Portuguese Republic), was our guest speaker.  She recalled how her upbringing, as well as her professional career as a diplomat, had brought her to appreciate the difference that women’s experience and skills make in Security and Defense, as much as in diplomacy and international negotiations.

She noted that her assignments as a Portuguese diplomat in NATO and in Europe had made her develop awareness that ensuring a critical mass of women in decision making at any organization was crucial to improve effectiveness of missions and policies. And that required persistent promotion of gender equality in civilian and military institutions, namely to ensure that women gained operational experience and top positions.

In intelligence organizations, such as the Portuguese agencies, women’s high participation offers a critical mass at all levels. It is acknowledged that women’s perspective and gender balance improve performance, ensure outreach and critical evaluation in missions, namely those that require articulating military and civilian means to promote peace, security, democracy, rule of the law and human rights. That is as crucial in preventing war and conflict through long term peace-keeping/building programmes, as in strategies to counter terrorism, organized criminality, disinformation, polarization, etc. Women’s skills help combine diversity, specialization and the capacity to multitask – all precious capacities in international security assignments.

Modern challenges in intelligence services demand capacities in which women must be trained to excel, such as cyber-security and other high-tech skills, given their general attention to detail, sensitivity to social implications, and effectiveness in communicating and impacting socially, including through the media.

Ambassador Mira Gomes stressed, however, how the question of adequate conciliation between work and family and avoiding long working hours had to be better addressed by public institutions and legislators, since this was crucial to encourage recruitment of women and enhance performance in all ranks of civilian and military organizations, including intelligence services.

Advocacy and leadership to steer women’s recruitment and career advancement in security and defense establishments was crucial and still much needed. Some leading women and men really had made a difference by ensuring that equal opportunities were afforded and by encouraging women to apply for leading operational and decision-making positions. In this context, she noted the boost to this transformative process given by Resolution 1325, adopted by the United Nations Security Council in the year 2000, calling for action to ensure inclusion of women in top positions and at all levels in international security operations, not just under the UN aegis but also in regional organizations, namely through National Action Plans: this made a difference in Portugal, with significant results, namely in the intelligence ranks, articulating internal and external security.

A discussion among participants followed, addressing several topics, namely the sensibility of women in assessing threats and risks, and the role of women in security institutions to help raise awareness against sexual harassment and domestic violence and also their role in pushing for gender equality at all levels.

Fourth Meeting- 22nd March 2021

WIIS PORTUGAL resumed meetings, upon a one year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemics. With the assistance of FLAD (The Luso-American Development Foundation), which facilitated its digital platform, a webinar was held on March 22nd, 2021.

Ana Gomes, the organizer, introduced the three guest speakers.

1.Kristin Kane, Minister Counsellor of the USA Embassy in Lisbon, outlined the road for women’s involvement in Security and Defense in the USA: it was in 1922 that a first female diplomat was appointed, despite the fact that since the 18th century women had been involved in military campaigns, including frontline and combat positions.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s steering the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the role played by Hillary Clinton at the Beijing Conference in 1995 declaring that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights” boosted major progress both in the USA and globally. A path now stepping forward with Kamala Harris, of Afro-Indian migrant parents, becoming the first Vice President of the USA in 2021, in President Joe Biden’s Administration, which makes a priority of empowering women in top government positions, and namely women of ethnic minorities.

Building a world that works for women is not just about affording equal opportunities but ensuring that it is a world actually built by women, Kristin stressed. And that must mean that paid parental leave becomes a reality and that equality is guaranteed to “the most neglected person in America: the black woman”. A Federal Women Program and a White House Center for Policy Council are in place to step up equal opportunities in employment, promote civil rights and gender equality, protecting LGBTQ community and ensure career advancement for women. That will also strengthen linking and advancing national security and foreign and national policies – not just preaching objectives abroad, but actually delivering on them at home.

US embassies are invited to report on such objectives and developments, also as a result of the passing in 2017 by the US Congress of a comprehensive Women Peace and Security Act, acknowledging that empowering women makes nations become safer and more prosperous. This has made an impact in the appointment of women ambassadors and other female officers, including Defense attachés at US missions and US embassies. So, a more gender sensitive work is to be developed within embassies and by embassies, including the USA Embassy in Lisbon. They are asked to pay attention, support and recognize international women and girls of courage, and to promote mentoring of professional and entrepreneurial women, recalling Secretary Madeleine Albright’s omen that “there is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women”.

2.Helena Carreiras – Professor and Director of Portuguese IDN (National Defense Institute).  She is the first woman ever to lead the IDN – as she noted, appointed by the current Defense Minister who is acutely aware of the gender imbalance and is actively working to reduce it in the Portuguese Armed Forces (PAF): a Gender Equality Office was established within the Ministry of National Defense, including a unit to prevent sexual harassment.

1988 was the 1st year in which women joined the PAF. Remarkable progress followed till 2010, when women reached 14% of all the staff in the three branches of the PAF. 2010 was also the year in which the National Defense Day, organized to raise awareness about defence and the PFA among youth, started to be opened to young women. In fact, women’s exclusion until then meant that female citizenship was being devalued. Today all restrictions are eliminated. Yet, ironically, from 2010 to 2020 the percentage of women in the FA decreased: it is now only 12,6%. And in 2017 it had become even lower, down to 10%.

A lot may be due to very discouraging conditions in contracts to serve in the military, plus the difficulty to conciliate professional with family life – still much more burdening on women -, plus the impact of the financial crisis. But that does not explain it all. What was wrong with the recruitment process? The retention rates? That is even more difficult to explain, considering that women are nowadays much better qualified for all the tasks requiring tech skills in the PAF, in any field and missions, logistics, health, CBRN threats and cyber-Defense.

Today, the number of women in PAF is composed as follows: 2976 overall, 1279 in the Army, 828 in the Navy, and 869 in the Air Force.

The overall percentage is average for NATO countries, but women in the Army represent only 10 % of permanent staff, 15% are non-permanent staff and 1456 women are under short-term contract. In the Navy, women represent 34% of the officers, 15% of which under contract, 15% are sergeants e 12 % are soldiers. Yet, in the Navy School, 41% of the students currently are women – the highest percentage of Navy cadets ever…

Hierarchical structure is not much different for men and women in command jobs. Yet very few women have reached enough time in the military to be promoted to top command jobs. And there are other conditions that are not guaranteed to ensure they reach top positions – in operational activities, which are often a requirement to reach command positions, women are under-represented, and they lack opportunities and incentive to progress. Women are clearly over-represented in support functions such as health, logistics or administration.

NATO pattern is similar: to occupy command positions you need operational experience.

Despite the fact that 21 years have passed since UNSC Resolution 1325, women keep facing difficulties in being accepted in the Armed Forces, their work is undervalued, and they are often relegated to non-operational jobs.

The main challenges are:

  1. It is crucial to keep working for improved numbers in order to ensure a critical mass of women in the PAF – without women in all positions, the status quo will replicate. A critical mass is not a sufficient condition, but still is a “sine qua non” condition.
  2. Portugal cannot overlook context: cannot import recipes. This has to be built inside the PAF context, ensuring women are assigned to operational tasks.
  3. PAF need to realize that equality is a prerequisite in the present security conditions, to deal with new challenges, new conflicts and in new contexts: women’s participation is crucial for the efficiency of the mission and the quality of the performance.
  4. Language matters: adopting an inclusive language is essential, a lot must be learnt with NATO’s inclusive language. In Portugal there has been resistance. The source issuing directives matters: they should come from the top political level.
  5. Make gender equality natural: those resisting believe gender equality means additional and positive discrimination. It is mandatory to show that equality is a condition for efficiency in the PAF missions, so that women’s capabilities and sensibilities are valued as assets in any context, scenarios and theatres, including in hybrid war and cyber-Defense; but also that men can develop and acquire new skills beyond the traditional core military training, which are required in conflict management and peacekeeping.

3. Valentina Marcelino is a journalist from “Diário de Notícias” daily, often investigating and writing on Security and Defense. She exposed the recent scandal of the murder of a Ukrainian immigrant by a border police brigade at the Lisbon Airport (already convicted by the court, but now pending appeal).

She noted that women have been recruited into Police forces since 1972. But they only represent 9% of those forces – far below EU average, which is 15,9%. Worse are only the percentages in Spain, Greece, Turkey, Latvia and Estonia.

PSP (urban police) and GNR (police in rural areas) – do not require university degrees for admission.

But PJ (criminal police) and SEF (border police) enlist a much higher number of women, certainly because they require higher qualifications: PJ has around 20% of women and SEF 25,5%. SEF has had two women as national directors already. PJ has currently a woman as Deputy National Director.

At PJ, 72% of the latest intake for new inspectors are women – 28 OUT OF 39. This has led to very significant and disturbing reactions in the PJ male dominated Trade Union: they publicly stated they do not want more women in the PJ, arguing the “inconvenient” of investigative brigades with more women than men. They also argue that women are absent of work more often than men…

At the PJ direction UNITS currently 28,7% of members are women – the number has tripled in the last 20 years (11,2% IN 2000): this reflects and has a positive impact in the culture of the organization.

PSP was the first police force to enlist women, but currently only have 7,9% of women agents, although women make 14,4% of top officers.

GNR, the rural police forces, only started taking women in the year 2000. In 2020, only 7,5% of women are agents, and women make only 9,5% of top officers.

The labor conditions in Police forces are not encouraging for women: women are seldom given operational responsibilities. Pregnant women are taken out of operational jobs, further losing operational subsidies, which on average mean a 30% decrease in their salaries: subsidies are cut when women transition into administrative jobs. In many other aspects, Police careers are not at all attractive to women: they do not favour conciliation of professional and family lives.


And this despite the proven and recognized contribution of women towards the efficiency and capabilities of Police Forces. It is significant that only 12,8% police agents are women, in a country where 70% of civil servants are women.


Nothing will change without clear political steering from the top: from the government and Police leaderships. Nothing will change without a critical mass of women at the operational direction of the Police forces. nothing will change until maternity of Police agents is protected and not penalized and until family and professional conciliation is promoted.

In the debate that followed these three presentations, questions were raised about culturally ingrained gender-based violence and its impact in the resistance to increase the intake of women in Armed Forces and Police Forces and about other reasons why more women do not volunteer to enter the military and police in Portugal.

It was pointed out that the last 10 years, during which the number of women decreased in the Armed Forces and did not raise as it should in the Police forces, were also the years of austerity policies and drastic budget reductions. Women are paying a heavier price, even more so as nobody noticed that campaigns to attract women were ditched or that the focus for recruitment had changed into so-called “meritocracy”. Recent studies and enquiries to women serving in Police and Armed Forces have shown that many female officers tended to interiorize the perception that the problem was with them personally, and not with the persistent and resistant macho culture.