Manila: For the first time, afemale naval officer is leading a Philippine peacekeeping contingent deployed abroad.

Navy Captain Luzviminda Camacho, leading a contingent made up of 12 officers and 145 enlisted personnel, left Villamor Air Base in Manila’s suburban Pasay City on Tuesday to become the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) 17th contingent to the United Nations Peace Keeping Force to Haiti in the Caribbean.

Most of the personnel under Camacho’s command are males.

Apart from being the first Filipino woman contingent commander, Camacho had previously earned the distinction as first woman to command a Philippine Navy warship, the Navy said.

Camacho’s unit has the task of providing perimeter security to the Force Headquarters of the UN Mission to Haiti, provide administrative and logistics, operate military vehicles, and provide VIP security to specified persons at the Force Headquarters.

Filipino women soldiers are playing an increasing role in the country’s peacekeeping commitments to the United Nations. In Haiti, they served during critical times, particularly during the recovery and retrieval operations for victims of the 2010 Earthquake.

Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin was quoted as saying, during the peacekeeping contingent’s departure ceremony last Tuesday, that the current participation by Filipino women peacekeepers epitomises “gender equality” in the Philippine military as well as the country in general.

The 17th AFP contingent to the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) are expected to serve anywhere from six to nine months.

Gender gap

Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2013 ranked the Philippines in fifth position in terms of gender equality — behind only economically advanced European countries such as Iceland, which topped the 136-nation list. Finland (2), Norway (3), Sweden (4), Ireland (6), New Zealand (7), Denmark (8), Switzerland (9), and Nicaragua (10) made up the rest of the top 10.

“The Global Gender Gap Report 2013 emphasises persisting gender gap divides across and within regions. Based on the eight years of data available for the 110 countries that have been part of the report since its inception, it finds that the majority of countries covered have made slow progress on closing gender gaps,” the report said.

The Gender Gap Report Index also continues to track the strong correlation between a country’s gender gap and its national competitiveness.

“Because women account for one-half of a country’s potential talent base, a nation’s competitiveness in the long term depends significantly on whether and how it educates and utilises its women,” the Geneva-based WEF said.

WEF said the Philippines is among top nations in the world with the best equality between genders and the highest ranked in Asia.

The current ranking is up three notches from its 2012 ranking.

According to WEF associate director Oliver Cann, the Philippines’ high ranking is due to the participation in health, education and economic activities of members of various genders.

“The Philippines is the only country in Asia and the Pacific that has fully closed the gender gap in both education and health,” he said.

The study, however, said small gaps still persist in women’s economic participation