Women in Military


War is a phenomenon which has recently evolved into a recurring feature with regard to conflict resolution. Data from critical analysis of most wars reveals gender as a conspicuous element that accompanies most war related activities. Over the years, the common perception regarding participation in warfare activities is more attributed to the effort of the male gender. Recent developments have initiated renewed interest in establishing the role of women in warfare. This is because in almost all warfare activities women have played passive roles even though this has been less noticeable in contemporary society. For instance, “Since December 1941 an estimated 350,000 women have served in the United States Armed Forces”.In essence, women have played theoretical roles in the past; however, since the onset of World War I, there was more input from women in warfare with an aim of pushing forth the achievement of victory through establishment of volunteer nursing programs, homestead new rights and liberties, and direct involvement in combat warfare as seen in international situations.

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Women have actively participated in warfare through initiation and subsequent implementation of volunteer nursing programs. These nursing programs have been specially formulated to include women as nurses of victims injured during war as required by the American Expeditionary Force, which was active during World War I. For instance, “Elizabeth Lewis, a young nurse from New England serving in the AEF, wrote letters home to her sisters and mother describing her experiences with Base Hospital Unit #9, which arrived in France in August of 1918. Although her wartime nursing experience was short in duration, ending after the 1918 Armistice…” In this context, there is evidence showing the manner in which women were actively involved in wartime activities as major supporters of their countrymen by taking care of the injured victims of the war. Moreover, it is important to note that in most of the cases, the women participating were primarily doing so on voluntary basis. “Following Germany's invasion of Poland, Canada declared war on Germany on September 10, 1939. Canadian nurses volunteered for military service in overwhelming numbers, easily filling the allotted nursing positions.” These voluntary acts served to immensely support the efforts of the armies. “Their servant leadership…was further characterized by the teamwork, mentoring and coaching, problem solving, decision making, risk taking, community building, listening, initiative, empathy, healing, and serving.”[4] These elements were important in encouraging the army to push forth with the main goal of participating in the war, which was winning. Another advantage that women brought into the war experience was their multitasking capabilities. “Women are said to multitask well. It depends, however, if the tasks or the roles they are playing are synergistic or dysfunctional. Such was the position of the 5,000 Army nurses who served during the Vietnam War era as analyzed by historian Kara Dixon Vuic.” Hence, by virtue of the multitasking nature of women, they were in a position to infuse their energies into extra roles in addition to the ones they had been assigned.

The renewal of homestead rights and liberties led to an emancipation of women’s role in warfare activities as they sought to take up roles reserved for men. This has primarily been driven by renewed interest in women who actively took part in warfare without them being accorded significant recognition for their efforts considering the fact that their contribution was important. “As manpower needs grew, women donned uniforms. The Royal Navy established the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS) in 1916, and recruits helped with telegraphy and sending and interpreting code. They also helped make mine nets and worked on torpedoes. In 1917, the British government created the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC).” It is therefore evident that some of the reasons behind women’s participation in warfare were partly driven by the increasing need to strengthen the existing manpower. Moreover, the growing interest by most women in male dominated professions like flying encouraged their future involvement in warfare as female pilots. “For war purposes, the potential of female pilots was mostly ignored; no serious effort was made to utilize it until very late in the war.” This was partly driven by the perception that women played solely feminine roles, which led to their exclusion from the battlefield. However, necessity drove the decision makers to include them as part of the force against the wishes of many male-driven views. This may have partly led to the development of negative notions towards women’s participation. As a result, “Today it is almost unknown that women pilots actively contributed to Germany's war effort during World War II, other than perhaps Hanna Reitsch (1912-1979), the exceptional test pilot of the 1930s and 1940s. But she was not the only German woman pilot flying between 1939 and 1945. At the onset of the war, women pilots had trained alongside men to become ferry pilots for the paramilitary NS Flying Corps.”[8] Therefore, this shows that there was a significant lack of recognition of women’s effort in the previous warfare activities leading to the undermining of their abilities.

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Furthermore, the inclusion of women into the warfare domain also led to the discovery of their enhanced capabilities, especially in providing post-war solutions. “Women make a difference in part because they adopt a more inclusive approach to security and address key social and economic issues that may otherwise be ignored. Women can make peace agreements and post-conflict efforts more viable, effective, and practical by engaging in a wide variety of actions, including but not limited to participating in peace talks, rehabilitating children associated with armed groups, convening people across conflict lines to discuss common concerns such as access to clean water, and advocating budget priorities that emphasize social services rather than military expenditures.” This shows the manner in which the roles played by the woman in the warfare environment cut across different multi-levels by integrating several aspects coming from other fields, which in the process gives war a holistic image. In addition, this also shows that the inclusion of women introduces a humanistic element into the war environment. This can be seen in the previous times when women accompanied their men into war to offer ‘human’ services, some of which went past the normal expectations. For example, “Women entered into "May marriages" with soldiers for the duration of a season's campaign. Each soldier expected the companionship of a woman who would carry his belongings, mend and wash his clothes, and nurse him if he became sick or injured. Such women also provided sexual services, but Lynn emphasizes that they played an assertive and entrepreneurial role far beyond our stereotype of the "camp follower.” These facts show how the role of women in war had other binding activities that go beyond warfare.          

Historically, international war events portray the fact that women have been involved in direct combat activities. Ordinarily, women have been relegated to non-combat activities in the warfare environment, while men are more associated with direct combat activities. However, evidence available reveals that in reality women have been involved in direct combat activities. For instance, “U.S. organization that trained and utilized women as pilots during World War II. The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) attracted over 25,000 female pilots, of whom 1,879 were accepted; 1,074 graduated from the training program. Thirty-eight women lost their lives while performing their duties as military pilots.” Hence, through participation in Air force, women were potentially exposed in direct combat. This aspect was especially evident in the Soviet Union, where women were greatly exposed to critical frontline war activities. “In its use of large numbers of women in combat, the Soviet Union was unique in world history. During both world wars and the Russian Civil War, women fought on the front lines.3 Soviet women engaged in combat in all branches of service in addition to their mass employment in support services.4 Soviet women were unique in being the only women soldiers who fought outside die borders of their own country in die Second World War.” It is important to note that the war events in the Soviet Union were among the first of all geographical entities to actively reverse the traditional feminine notion attributed to women by male chauvinists in society. In essence, this serves to elevate the social standing of the woman since through inclusion on the battle frontline; this gives them a masculine element.

The participation of women in war as portrayed in the Soviet Union further serves to change the historical context of women in war. “The history of Soviet women in combat is still a neglected topic. In particular, general histories of the Second World War and the Great Patriotic War say very little about women's participation.” This could be partly attributed to the manner in which humans are brought up with traditional values, which are essentially embedded in the culture of the society. This makes it difficult to bring out the woman’s name into the public domain, which in essence degrades the heroic status of their contribution in war. “Female military formations existed only in Russia, where a few volunteers were accepted for military service in 1914. The most prominent of these individuals was Maria Botchkareva, called by British feminist Emmeline Pankhurst "the greatest woman of the century." In June 1917, the government then headed by Aleksandr Kerensky authorized Botchkareva to form the Russian Women's Battalion of Death. That July, Botchkareva's 300 recruits achieved a brilliant success, capturing 2,000 German soldiers in the course of a surprise attack” In common practice, such kind of heroic activities by women is never given the deserved landmark recognition. During the Korean War, there was significant inclusion of women interests, an act that spurred global interest. “The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) was created during the Korean War and established a legacy for women in the armed services. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower Anna Rosenberg recommended a committee to address women's military interests, and Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall approved…” This significantly changed the historical context of war.

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The recognition women’s input in the warfare environment forms a significant feature of the warfare domain. This is because for a long time society has defined the woman’s role based on existing cultural barriers that discourage women participation in activities considered being the man’s domain. In essence, women have played theoretical roles in the past; however, since the beginning of the first World War, there has been more input from women in warfare with an aim of pushing forth for the achievement of victory through enhancement of volunteer nursing programs, homestead new rights and liberties, and direct involvement in combat warfare as seen in international situations. These activities form critical and supportive aspects of war as a historical feature. Women’s participation in the frontline battle field as seen in the Soviet Union case not only serves to show their contribution but also gives women a positive image with regard to the existing gender roles. Therefore, the typical definition of war through the context of women provides a positive view into the female gender with regard to their inherent capabilities.

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