Women in the military
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The role of women in the military since 1914, particularly in combat, has been controversial. It is only recently that women have begun to be given a more prominent role in contemporary armed forces as increasing numbers of countries begin to expand the role of women in the military.
From the beginning of the 1970s, most Western armies have begun to admit women to serve in active duty in all of its military branches. In nine countries women are conscripted into military service. Today, there are only a few countries that allow women into the military on a completely equal basis. These countries include Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and some others.
- 1 History
- 2 Current situation
- 3 Women in combat
- 4 Academic studies
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
World War I
Thousands of women served as nurses, cooks, laundresses and in other support roles in the major armies.
The only nation to deploy female combat troops in substantial numbers was Russia. From the outset, female recruits either joined up in disguise or were tacitly accepted by their units. The most prominent were a contingent of front-line light cavalry in a Cossack regiment commanded by a female colonel, Alexandra Kudasheva. Others included the famous Maria Bochkareva, who was decorated three times and promoted to senior NCO rank, while the New York Times reported that a group of twelve schoolgirls from Moscow had joined up together disguised as young men. In 1917, the Provisional Government raised a number of "Women's Battalions", with Bochkareva given an officer's commission to command the first unit. They fought well, but failed to provide the propaganda value expected of them and were disbanded before the end of the year. In the later Russian Civil War, the Bolsheviks employed some women infantry, while female soldiers are also recorded in the White Guard.
World War II
All the main nations used women in uniform. A majority of the tasked women performed included nursing, clerical or support roles. Over 500,000 had combat roles in anti-aircraft units in Britain and Germany, and front-line units in Soviet Union.
In 1938, the British took the lead worldwide in establishing uniformed services for women, in addition to the small units of nurses that had long been in operation. In late 1941, Britain began conscripting women, sending most into factory work and some into the military, especially the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), attached to the army. The ATS began as a woman's auxiliary to the military in 1938, and in 1941 was granted military status (with 2/3 pay compared to men). Women had a well-publicized role in handling anti-aircraft guns against German planes and V-1 missiles. The daughter of Prime Minister Winston Churchill was there, and he gushed that any general who saved him 40,000 fighting men had gained the equivalent of a victory. By August, 1941, women were operating the fire-control instruments; they were never allowed to pull the trigger, as killing the enemy was considered to be too masculine. By 1943, 56,000 women were in Anti-Aircraft Command, most in units close to London where there was a risk of getting killed, but no risk of getting captured by the enemy. The first "kill" came in April 1942.
The Third Reich, contrary to popular belief, had similar roles for women. The SS-Helferinnen were regarded as part of the SS if they had undergone training at a Reichsschule SS but all other female workers were regarded as being contracted to the SS and chosen largely from concentration camps. Women also served in auxiliary units in the navy (Kriegshelferinnen), air force (Luftnachrichtenhelferinnen) and army (Nachrichtenhelferin).
In 1944-45 roughly 500,000 women were volunteer uniformed auxiliaries in the German armed forces (Wehrmacht). About the same number served in civil aerial defense, 400,000 volunteered as nurses, and many more replaced drafted men in the wartime economy. In the Luftwaffe they served in combat roles helping to operate the anti-aircraft systems that shot down Allied bombers. By 1945, German women were holding 85% of the billets as clericals, accountants, interpreters, laboratory workers, and administrative workers, together with half of the clerical and junior administrative posts in high-level field headquarters.
Germany had a very large and well-organized nursing service, with four main organizations, one for Catholics, one for Protestants, the secular DRK (Red Cross) and the "Brown Nurses," for committed Nazi women. Military nursing was primarily handled by the DRK, which came under partial Nazi control. Frontline medical services were provided by male medics and doctors. Red Cross nurses served widely within the military medical services, staffing the hospitals that perforce were close to the front lines and at risk of bombing attacks. Two dozen were awarded the Iron Cross for heroism under fire. The brief historiography focuses on the dilemmas of Brown Nurses forced to look the other way while their incapacitated patients were murdered.
Hundreds of women auxiliaries (Aufseherin) served in the SS in the camps, the majority of which were at Ravensbrück. In Germany women also worked, and were told by Hitler to produce more pure Aryan children to fight in future wars.
The Yugoslav National Liberation Movement claimed 6,000,000 civilian supporters; its two million women formed the Antifascist Front of Women (AFŽ), in which the revolutionary coexisted with the traditional. The AFŽ managed schools, hospitals and even local governments. About 100,000 women served with 600,000 men in Tito's Yugoslav National Liberation Army. It stressed its dedication to women's rights and gender equality and used the imagery of traditional folklore heroines to attract and legitimize the partizanka. After the war women were relegated to traditional gender roles, but Yugoslavia is unique as its historians paid extensive attention to women's roles in the resistance, until the country broke up in the 1990s. Then the memory of the women soldiers faded away.
After the world wars
During the Vietnam War (1955-1975), about 11,000 American military women were deployed to Vietnam, with 90% serving as nurses. Eight women were killed in combat. Commander Elizabeth Barrett became the first woman to hold a command in a combat zone.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo began training an initial 150 women as para-commandos for the Armée Nationale Congolaise in 1967 and many more were trained subsequently, over a period of several years at least. The women received complete jump training as well as weapons training although it is unclear to what extent they were actually integrated into the combat units of the Congo.
Israel is currently the only country in the world with a mandatory military service requirement for women. Mandatory conscription for single and married women without children began in 1948.
Initially all women conscripts served in the Women's Army Corps, serving as clerks, drivers, welfare workers, nurses, radio operators, flight controllers, ordnance personnel, and course instructors. Roles for women beyond technical and secretarial support started to open up in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
In 2000, the Equality amendment to the Military Service law granted equal opportunities in the military to women found physically and personally suitable for a job. Women started to enter combat support and light combat roles in a few areas, including the Artillery Corps, infantry units and armored divisions. A few platoons named Carakal were formed for men and women to serve together in light infantry. Many women would also join the Border Police.
Despite these changes, the IDF concedes that fewer than 4 percent of women are in combat positions such as infantry, crew of tanks or other armored vehicles, artillery guns service, fighter pilots, etc. Rather, they are concentrated in "combat-support".
The proportion of female military personnel varies internationally; for example, it is approximately 3% in India, 10% in the UK, 13% in Sweden, 16% in the US, and 27% in South Africa.
Compared with male personnel and female civilians, female personnel face substantially higher risks of sexual harassment and sexual violence, according to British, Canadian, and US research.
Women in combat
The examples and perspective in this section deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (November 2013) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Some nations allow female soldiers to serve in certain combat arms positions. Others exclude them for various reasons including physical demands and privacy policies.
Women have been involved in the U.S. military since 1775, but more in the civilian fields of nursing, laundering, mending clothing and cooking. Several hundred women enlisted and fought in the US Civil War, nearly all of them disguised as men, many discovered on the battlefield and in hospitals after becoming wounded. Deborah Sampson was one of the first women known to have disguised as a man to serve. She was unhappy with her limited role in the American Revolution, so she pretended to be a man in order to serve in a light infantry unit. She fought in many battles, but eventually suffered injuries to her head and leg which led to the discovery of her true gender. Her commanding officer, General John Paterson, honorably discharged her and thanked her for her service. In 1917 Loretta Walsh became the first woman to enlist. But it was not until 1948 that a law was finally passed that made women a permanent part of the military services. In 1976, the first group of women were admitted into a U.S. military academy. Currently, approximately 16% of the graduating West Point class consists of women.
In the years 1990 and 1991 some 40,000 American military women were deployed during the Gulf War operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. But not one woman was able to take on any form of combat. From 1994 on a policy prohibited women from being assigned to ground combat units below the brigade level.
According to statistics from 2013, 15.6 percent of the U.S. Army's 1.1 million soldiers, including National Guard And Reserve, were female. That year, women served in 95 percent of all army occupations.
Prior to the 1993 Department of Defense assignment rule, 67 percent of the positions in the Army were open to women. Today, 78 percent of the positions in the Army are open to women, and women serve in 95 percent of all Army occupations (active duty and the reserve components), as of 2014. In the U.S. Air Force, 99% of career fields are open to women, the only ones prohibited to women are Special Tactics Officer, Combat Control, Special Operations Weather Technician, Combat Rescue Officer, Pararescue and Tactical Air Control Party.
In January 2013, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta issued an order to end the policy of "no women in units that are tasked with direct combat", though it still has yet to be determined if and when women may join the US Army's Special Forces.
In 2013 female U.S Army soldiers are being asked to take part in a new training course designed by Combined Joint Task Force Paladin, which is specifically designed for Female Engagement Team members. The course will help female soldiers train for tasks such as unexploded ordnance awareness, biometrics, forensics, evidence collection, tactical questioning, vehicle and personnel searches, instructions on how homemade explosive devices are made and how to recognize if a device is homemade. This change will open up hundreds of thousands of front-line positions for women. The goal is for all assessments to be complete and have women fully integrated into all roles in the army by 2016.
By May 2015, all nineteen women vying to become the first female Army Rangers had failed their training at Ranger School. Eleven of the nineteen dropped out in the first four days of training. Of the remaining eight who failed in the next step, three were given the option to enroll in the course again. Two of the original 19 women graduated in August 2015. A third graduated in October 2015.
In April 2015 after two-and-a-half year period in which the tough Marine Corps' Infantry Officer Course became gender-integrated for research ended without a single female graduate. The final two participants in the Marines' experiment with training women for ground combat started and failed the IOC on April 2. Both were dropped that same day during the grueling initial Combat Endurance Test.
In December 2015, Defense Secretary Ash Carter stated that starting in 2016 all combat jobs would open to women, however Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford of the Marine Corps, wanted to keep certain direct combat positions such as infantry and machine gunner closed to women.
The decision to officially permit women to assume combat roles was due to the fact that women had served in combat roles from the beginning of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Women have been injured, killed, and awarded some of the highest honors. Two women have received the Silver Star, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester in 2005, and Army Specialist Monica Lin Brown in 2007 for their actions in combat. Over 10,000 combat action badges have been awarded to women who served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.Secretary of Defense Ash Carter stated "It was a reality, because women had seen combat throughout the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — serving, fighting and in some cases making the ultimate sacrifice alongside their fellow comrades in arms."
Marine Corps study released in September 2015 found that women in unit created to assess how female service members perform in combat were significantly injured twice as often as men, less accurate with infantry weapons and not as good at removing wounded troops from the battlefield, according to the results of study produced by the service.
The research was carried out by the service in a nine-month long experiment at both Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Twentynine Palms, Calif. About 400 Marines, including 100 women, volunteered to join the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force, the unit the Marine Corps created to compare how men and women do in a combat environment.
“This is unprecedented research across the services,” said Marine Col. Anne Weinberg, the deputy director of the Marine Corps Force Innovation Office. “What we tried to get to is what is that individual’s contribution to the collective unit. We all fight as units… We’re more interested in how the Marine Corps fights as units and how that combat effectiveness is either advanced or degraded.” The Marine Corps research found that all-male squads, teams and crews demonstrated better performance on 93 of 134 tasks evaluated (69 percent) than units with women in them. Units comprising all men also were faster than units with women while completing tactical movements in combat situations, especially in units with large “crew-served” weapons like heavy machine guns and mortars, the study found. Infantry squads comprising men only also had better accuracy than squads with women in them, with “a notable difference between genders for every individual weapons system” used by infantry rifleman units. They include the M4 carbine, the M27 infantry automatic rifle and the M203, a single-shot grenade launcher mounted to rifles.
The research also found that male Marines who have not received infantry training were still more accurate using firearms than women who have. And in removing wounded troops from the battlefield, there “were notable differences in execution times between all-male and gender-integrated groups,” with the exception being when a single person—”most often a male Marine” — carried someone away, the study found.
There may be some social explanations for why unit cohesion is lower in mixed gender groups. As noted by many female soldiers, the way that they are viewed by male soldiers is often detrimental to their participation in the unit. For instance, the female soldiers are often labelled as “either standoffish or a slut”. In order to avoid being labelled as either of these, a female soldier has to spend time with fellow soldiers strategically. This means that she is careful to not spend too much time with any one male soldier, and this often has an isolating effect. In several instances, women will also be considered less skilled than the male soldiers, so will not be given the opportunities to complete tasks that they are qualified to do and will continuously have to prove themselves as capable. Therefore, lack of cohesion with units could be because of female soldier’s perceived incapability to be a soldier.
There are worries about romantic or sexual relationships developing, potentially inappropriate fraternization, or that a woman might get pregnant. Some people are not willing to accept the risk of women being captured and tortured and possibly sexually assaulted, which happened to then-Major Rhonda Cornum. Some argue that there is a shortage of male combat soldiers and that women should not be treated as second-class citizens in the military.
According to Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, Israeli soldiers reacted with uncontrollable protectiveness and aggression after seeing a woman wounded. Grossman also notes that Islamic militants rarely, if ever, surrender to female soldiers, lessening the IDF's ability to interrogate prisoners. On the other hand, Iraqi and Afghan civilians are often not intimidated by female soldiers. However, in such environments, having female soldiers serving in a combat unit does have the advantage of allowing for searches on female civilians. Children and women are more likely to talk to female soldiers than to male soldiers.
Sexual harassment and assault
Female soldiers have developed several techniques for avoiding sexual assault “including: (1) relying on support networks [buddy systems], (2) capitalizing on their status (associated with rank, age, time spent in military, or prior deployment experience); and, (3) masking femininity through clothing to minimize violence exposure and to keep themselves and others safe during military service”. While these techniques are useful, they are also problematic in several ways. Firstly, these strategies demonstrate that it becomes the responsibility of the women to keep themselves safe instead of challenging the rape culture within the military. Secondly, because of the ratio between men and women, women will often have to “buddy up” with male unit members. The male unit member then becomes a “protector” of the female soldier. This situation re-creates the female body as vulnerable and weak in relation to the strong, male body.
Some reports show that a woman in the military is three times more likely than a woman in the general population to be raped, and in Iraq are more likely to be attacked by one of their own than an insurgent. In 1988, the first sexual harassment survey was created military-wide which found that 64% of military women have been subjected to some form of sexual harassment. Those found to be affected the greatest were Native-American women, followed by Hispanic and African-American women. There is currently a lawsuit in the US military in which the plaintiffs claim to have been subjected to sexual assaults in the military.
A documentary called The Invisible War has been made on this lawsuit and topic. Sexual assault is often one of the most physically and mentally detrimental strains women in the military face, and often leads to the development of PTSD. Research shows that sleep depravation and chronic pain are often found in women who experience sexual trauma. Sexual assault has been seen to affect several parts of military women’s lives. Military women who are sexual assault victims more often fail to complete college, and generally earn annual incomes less than $25,000. Because this is a work environment for military women, it involves very frequent interactions with their perpetrator, and triggers a loss of trust from a personal and military perspective. Because the perpetrator is typically in a position of higher command or is one whose job is to protect the woman, this causes an increase in traumatization.
Reports also demonstrate that women in the military are challenging the idea of their responsibility in cases of rape and sexual assault: “recent changes in the military’s sexual assault prevention training have the potential to challenge women’s responsibility for preventing rape.” This training now has a stronger focus on bystander interventions and the nature of consent in sexual activity, each working to emphasize the importance of the responsibility of male soldiers. With such training becoming more widespread, militaries are working to empower women through their participation, allowing women to take on the classically male role of “protector”. Not only does this work to change women’s “responsibility for preventing rape”, but also requires that male soldiers acknowledge their responsibilities when it comes to engage with female soldiers in both sexual and non-sexual activities.
Women on submarines
In 1985 the Royal Norwegian Navy became the first  navy in the world to permit female personnel to serve in submarines, followed by the appointment of a female submarine captain in 1995. The Danish Navy allowed women on submarines in 1988, the Swedish Navy in 1989, followed by the Royal Australian Navy in 1998, Canada in 2000, and Spain; all operators of conventional submarines.
Women serving alongside men on submarines creates the need to segregate accommodation and facilities, the U.S. Navy estimating that modifying its submarines to accommodate women would cost $300,000 per bunk versus $4,000 per bunk to allow women to serve on aircraft carriers.
Recent U.S. Navy policy allowed three exceptions for women being on board military submarines: (1) female civilian technicians for a few days at most, (2) women midshipmen on an overnight during summer training for both Navy ROTC and Naval Academy, and (3) family members for one-day dependent cruises.
In October 2009, the U.S. secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, announced that he and the chief of naval operations were moving aggressively to change the policy. Reasons included the fact that larger SSGN and SSBN submarines now in the fleet had more available space and could accommodate female officers with little or no modification. Also, the availability of qualified female candidates with the desire to serve in this capacity was cited. It was noted that women now represented 15 percent of the active duty Navy  and that women today earn about half of all science and engineering bachelor's degrees. A policy change was deemed to serve the aspirations of women, the mission of the Navy, and the strength of its submarine force.
In February 2010, the Secretary of Defense approved the proposed policy and signed letters formally notifying Congress of the intended change. After receiving no objection, the Department of the Navy officially announced on April 29, 2010, that it had authorized women to serve aboard submarines.
The first group of U.S. female submariners completed nuclear power school and officially reported on board two ballistic and two guided missile submarines in November 2011.
In 2012, it was announced that 2013 will be the first year women will serve on U.S. attack submarines. On June 22, 2012, a sailor assigned to USS Ohio (SSGN 726) became the first female supply officer to qualify in U.S. submarines. In 2015 the U.S. Submarine Force will begin accepting applications for the Enlisted Women in Submarines (EWIS) Initiative. This is a detailed process that will systematically place enlisted female Sailors on OHIO Class submarines. Female Sailors from all communities and ratings will be afforded the opportunity to be among the first to join the U.S. Naval Submarine Service.
Women are expected in French submarines by the end of 2017.
Parts of this article (those related to French Submarines) need to be updated.(February 2018)
A 2008 study by Jennifer M. Silva, a sociologist of culture and inequality (her goal is to investigate the relationship between systems of inequality), found that the female cadets saw military training as an "opportunity to be strong, assertive and skillful" and saw such training "as an escape from some of the negative aspects of traditional femininity". The female cadets also believed that the ROTC program was "gender-blind" and "gender-neutral". The study claims that female cadets "were hyper-vigilant about their status as women performing tasks traditionally seen as men's work and often felt that they had to constantly prove they were capable."
Silva's study found gender playing a role in how cadets perceive leadership, quoting one female cadet: "in the Navy the joke is that a woman in the Navy is either a bitch, a slut or a lesbian, and none of them are good categories to fall into, and if you are stern with your people then you are a bitch, but if you're a guy and stern people are like, wow, I respect him for being a good leader."
Of the female cadets Silva interviewed, 84 percent said they did not want a military career as it would interfere with being able to get married and have children.
A study conducted by Matthews et al. 2009 to examine the attitudes of West Point cadets, Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadets, and non-military-affiliated students from civilian colleges toward a variety of roles that women may serve in the military. The results showed that military cadets were less approving of women being assigned to certain military jobs than non-military students.
- Military sociology
- Women in combat
- Women in the military by country
- Women in war
- Women in warfare and the military (1945–1999)
- Women in warfare and the military (2000–present)
- Women in the military in the Americas
- Puerto Rican women in the military
- Women in the military in Europe
- Women in the Philippine military
- Women in the United States Air Force
- Women in the United States Army
- Women in the United States Coast Guard
- Women in the United States Marines
- Women in the United States Navy
- Gender and Security Sector Reform
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World War II
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