Beating hearts of the uniformed services
Calypsonian Denyse Plummer, who hails from the twin-island republic of Trinidad & Tobago, some years ago sang the celebratory women’s empowerment anthem Woman Is Boss, honouring the achievements of women in their various fields of endeavour — in not just her own country, but the Caribbean and beyond.
Like Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman, the song became an expression of the strength of women and the demand for gender equality, a situation not foreign to female members of Bermuda’s uniformed services.
So, as we join with the rest of the world in observing International Women’s Day 2023, just how do women in uniform fare among the ranks of the Bermuda Police Service, HM Customs, the Department of Corrections, the Royal Bermuda Regiment. and Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service?
While there is still work to be done, take heart, as there is definite progress being made.
Nowhere is that more evident than at HM Customs.
Eighty-nine or 56 per cent of the 159 uniformed staff there is made up of women. In fact, the person in charge of the revenue-collecting agency is also a woman, Collector of Customs Lucinda Pearman. Of three Assistant Collectors, one is a woman, Sharmette D. Pond, five of the nine Principal Customs Officers are women, namely LaVerne Smith, Kelly Perinchief-Burgess, Dawnette Bell, Tanya Quinn and Melody Lightbourne, and 13 of the 19 Senior Customs Officers are women. Of the non-uniformed ranks, there is one woman who holds a supervisory position within the customs department.
And what of the Department of Corrections? Well, there, too, as Denyse Plummer says, “woman is boss”. Commissioner of Corrections Keeva Joell-Benjamin is tasked with the running of the island’s correctional facilities, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of not only those paying their debt to society, but also those of the 150 corrections officers who make up the ranks — 35, or 23 per cent, of whom are female.
The Department of Corrections’ senior management team also consists of women: Programme Director Laura Walker, Chief Officer Sandra Gomes and Chief Officer Darynda Caisey-Brown. There are three other chief officers. Of the six principal officers, again two are women, and women also account for five of 18 divisional officer positions within that department.
The Bermuda Police Service are charged with making Bermuda safer. Helping to ensure that mandate is met are 113 female officers who account for 30 per cent of their 371 officers. The most senior ranking among them is Acting Deputy Commissioner of Police Na’imah Astwood.
Five of the service’s 20 inspectors are women who are responsible for units of particular significance. Inspector Derricka Burns is Acting Chief Inspector of the Serious Crime Unit. Inspector Tracy Burgess is in charge of the training and recruitment division of the BPS. The Tactical Unit comes under the leadership of Inspector Shakisha Minors. Inspector Karema Flood is attached to the Community Policing Division as the second-in-command of the Central Division. Inspector Fiona Miller heads up the Court Liaison Unit.
Although a male-dominated entity, the Royal Bermuda Regiment since 2006 has had as its Colonel-in-Chief The Duchess of Gloucester. The removal of conscription has seen an increase in the number of women joining the ranks of the RBR, with 58 of the 308 troops being female. And they are not being deterred as they seek to make known their leadership capabilities at the Warwick Camp headquarters.
To that end, Officer Cadet Lee-Ann Tucker had the distinction of being the first woman RBR officer in three decades to complete the training course at the renowned British Military Academy, Sandhurst. She is one of two women who hold the rank of lieutenant with the RBR. The regiment also boasts two female colour sergeants, four female sergeants, two female corporals and 13 female lance corporals.
A spokesman for the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service stated: “The Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service has a proud history of female employees, having welcomed our very first female entry as a firefighter in 1987. Over the years, there have been several women who have made the BFRS their career of choice. We include our uniformed and supporting personnel because every member has an important role in the operations of the BFRS.
The spokesman added: “We are extremely grateful for the 12 female firefighters who rose to the challenge to assist the community. The BFRS commends two of these women who dedicated themselves to working tirelessly, making their way into the senior management team and acting to divisional officer prior to their retirement.
“There are 21 female members of the BFRS, with 13 of those being in the Emergency Dispatch Centre. Their role is paramount to the operations of the BFRS and cannot be overlooked. The Chief Fire Officer is excited about the recruitment process and expects that we will welcome more female firefighters.”
Rena Lalgie has made history as the first woman, and the first person of African-Caribbean heritage, to be appointed Governor of Bermuda. Her Excellency, who is Commander-in-Chief of both the Bermuda Police Service and the Royal Bermuda Regiment, said: “It should be a source of pride to the island to see so many women in key leadership roles within most of Bermuda’s uniformed services. However, there is still more to do.
“There remains a need for the creation of safe and respectful work environments, where women regardless of rank are not subject to unconscious bias, microaggressions, sexual harassment or discrimination. More inclusive cultures are a win-win for all concerned and incentivises future generations to follow their dreams and achieve their full potential.”
• The Heads of the Uniformed Services contributed to this opinion
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