Silipa Vananalagi Is Second Woman Colonel In RFMF

The second woman to be promoted to colonel in the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) has her work cut out for her. Colonel Silipa Raradoka Druavesi Vananalagi was promoted
15 Mar 2022 12:39
Silipa Vananalagi Is Second Woman Colonel In RFMF
Colonel Silipa Raradoka Druavesi Vananalagi. Photo: Nicolette Chambers

The second woman to be promoted to colonel in the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) has her work cut out for her.

Colonel Silipa Raradoka Druavesi Vananalagi was promoted last week by the RFMF Commander, Major-General Ro Jone Kalouniwai.

He said the promotion was long-overdue.

“I think it’s important for the RFMF with how things are happening now in both the security and the defence environment. The experiences have taught us that our female officers, soldiers play a very critical role in understanding the population and in getting out what is quite hard from a male approach,” Major-General Kalouniwai said.

He admitted that gender equality was still a work in progress at the RFMF.

“It is very important for us in terms of having that voice being in a leadership role looking at who to consult or having our strategic planning in place and our decision making process,” he said.

Major-General Kalouniwai was adamant to pursue gender equality during his tenure as Commander.

Colonel Vananalagi was moved and honoured by the trust shown by the RFMF leadership.

She acknowledged God and her family for their continued support.

With 33 years of regular force service, Colonel Vananalagi was well-aware of the challenges women face in the Force.

Her many years of study and service both here and abroad made her well positioned to be an agent of change.

She is currently the Commandant of the RFMF Officers Training School at Vatuwaqa.

Below is part of an interview with Colonel Vananalagi:


What were some challenges you encountered to get to where you are today and how did you overcome them?

Colonel Vananalagi: Recognition and acceptance in a male dominated work place was rampant from the start but you learn to live with it

  • Infrastructure layout and plans in all military camps and establishments are designed for men only and no consideration for females. Things are changing slowly thanks the Global efforts on gender equality by the United Nations and other multinational organisations and governments.
  • Fallouts from lack of or inadequate gender policies, education and awareness will always have a bearing on men’s mindset on how they treat and behave towards women. I used to ignore and learn to live with gender issues when I started, but now I feel it my duty to report any abuse or exploitation by males to HQ or to the arm of the institution that deals with such issues. If it is within my court I confront the culprit that is responsible for the offense and speak to him, her or them in their face.


What motivates you?

Colonel Vananalagi: My motivation comes from observing the inspirational work of the following ladies:

  • My Mother – Mrs Ema Druavesi – her mentorship shaped me to be who I am today;
  • Iron Lady – Margret Thatcher – British Prime Minister – because she never mince her words and will never hold back from speaking out her opinion even amongst her male political counterparts;
  • Indira Ghandi – First Indian female Prime Minister who was also an Iron Lady;


You’ve had numerous experiences working under various UN outfits. What are some lessons you’ve gained over the years?

Colonel Vananalagi: My UN experience covers the following missions:

  • UNIFIL HQ, South Lebanon as a staff officer from 2000 – 2001
  • UNDOF HQ in Golan Heights from 2013 – 2014 as a staff officer,
  • UNDOF HQ, Syria as Chief Military Personnel Officer 2018 -2019,
  • UNTSO United Nations Truce Supervision Organization Syria as Chief Observer Group Golan from 2020 – 2021.

You learn to work and communicate with people from all over the world. You learn to understand their cultures and tradition and in the spirit of the UN, no matter how small or how big your country is, we all have the same right to speak and be heard.

The UN is the leading platform where gender equality is championed, exercised and monitored. The UN does not discriminate people based on gender, race, religion or ethnicity.


How do you hope to implement these learnings in the RFMF?

Colonel Vananalagi: Fortunately for RFMF, Fiji had ratified UN Resolution 1325 on Gender Equality and thus requirements under the resolution have now become current working policy of the RFMF which are strictly monitored by the UN.

My aim is to train, educate and raise the awareness level of all males in the RFMF as well as females on the UN Resolution 1325 because this is one of the better ways of changing mindsets and improving male attitude towards women.


How important is the role of women officers in the RFMF and in the context of global peacekeeping duties around the world?

Colonel Vananalagi: There are certain fields and position in the RFMF and in global peacekeeping that are suitable for women, but have been performed by men for so long because of the bias and discrimination towards women in the military or women in general.

Now that the UN and most governments have ratified the resolution, more women participation and engagements are witnessed nowadays.


Any advice for young women wishing to pursue a career in the military.

Colonel Vananalagi: My advice to them is have a goal and work towards achieving that goal through:

  • Dedication
  • Discipline
  • Commitment
  • Passion
  • Moral and Spiritual Fortitude


About Colonel Silipa:

Born: 31 May, 1969

Village: Taci, Noco, Rewa

Service: 33 years regular force service.




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