Women and the Military, War and Peace
War has always had an impact on both men and women on different scales. It is a concern that even though women are a minority of the perpetrators and combatants of contemporary conflicts, they seem to suffer the greatest harm as compared to men. It is reported that almost 90% of causalities of war are civilians; most of them being women and children. Women in war-torn countries face the worst forms of social abuse that range from sexual violence to slavery that are often deployed in a systematic manner to achieve political and military objectives. Women in war are often the first to suffer when infrastructure in any country breaks down as they struggle to do the greatest they can in terms of keeping families together and caring for those wounded in the society. It is reported that they even turn to sexual exploitation in order to support their families and ensure their families survive during that period (Womenwarpeace.org 1). War brings with it tremendous adverse effects and there is, therefore, a need for all women to take up responsibilities during such periods in terms of military action, and advocacy of peaceful negotiations as an alternative to military action.
When there is a conflict involving military action in any specific locality, it takes a long period before it ends and often the war has adverse economic and social effects. For instance, the war in Iraq has led to the dilapidation of the economy of the country. Buildings are constantly being bombed, and social institutions like schools and mosques have become points of attack thereby discouraging any activities that can be taken within them. Investors are discouraged from investing in such war- tone places and the currencies of such countries take a plunge that brings the economy to near collapse.
The populace in such countries ends up suffering from poverty and lack of basic amenities like healthcare services and housing to the point of being housed in temporary refugee camps. Even after the war ends, the citizens still lack the prerequisite amenities to live a healthy life, and it takes time before reasonable development can take place. After conflict ends in such regions, the impact of social misdeeds like sexual violence and murder persist within the society. Those who remain behind are quite traumatized especially when they remember how their friends and relatives passed on during that period. They bare much hatred for the perpetrators of such heinous activities, and this affects their lifestyle and general perception towards other human beings. The impact of sexual violence often takes on a more permanent toll in terms of unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and constant stigmatization of victims within the society. Often time is widespread sexual violence continues even after the war ends due to insecurity and impunity within members of the society. Essentially in a region that is coupled with inequitable laws and discrimination, sexual violence prevents women from accessing education (Womenwarpeace.org 1). Such mechanisms are put in place with the sole aim of discouraging the need for women to be financially independent and seek government jobs that are geared towards peace building.
There is a need for women to take up more strategic roles when it comes to military action and peacekeeping missions that are sent to war tone nations. The natural instinct of a woman gives her an edge when trying to achieve peace as compared to men who have often created a perception of subduing the enemy and defeating them in combat so that they keep him in line. A mother cares for all and is focused towards achieving peaceful coexistence between everyone in the family and the society as a whole. However, women have been poorly represented in formal peace processes and have been reduced to contributing in an informal manner when it comes to conflict resolution. In recent peace negotiations, women usually represent less than 8% of the participants thereby their input is at the minimum level. When it comes to the signatories of such peaceful resolutions, they form less than 3% of them thereby alluding to the fact that women play an insignificant role in conflict resolutions (Womenwarpeace.org 1).
To make the situation worse, no women has ever been appointed as a chief or lead mediator in any UN-sponsored peace talks. Due to such exclusion, issues involving women in war and their participation have not been addressed continually. Key among those issues are gender-based violence, accountability after the war, and the rights of women. It is high time that females were given a more formal mandate when it comes to conflict resolutions as they have proved historically to come in handy in terms of military action and peaceful resolutions.
The involvement of women in the military in a formal setup dates back to the period when the First World War took place that was from 1914 to 1918. Three countries were key to ensuring that women got an opportunity to take part in the war the three being America, Britain, and Germany. When the US entered that war on April 6th, 1917, regular army and navy military nurses were recruited to take on an active role in the military action. Though the women who took up the role of nurses in the army had no formal ranks, other women who need not have the skills of nurses were allowed to join the Army as soldiers (Norman 47). They took on more active roles in the military and were even enlisted into the Marine and Navy Corps. A few of these women also served in the Coast Guard and were quite influential when it came to military action during the period of the war. However, the US army conducted all these activities informally and could not officially recognize these women as active players in the military choosing to rely on them as contract employees and civilian volunteers. This is because women were still subdued during that period, and in would be quite infamous to recognize women as active members of the military in a patriarchal society.
The roles of women in the military were regulated due to negative public opinion and hesitant military leaders who felt that the outfit of the military was never meant for women. The perception then was that women lacked the prerequisite intelligence and physical strength to fight successfully in any battle. Even though this was the case, the country needed all the skills that their citizenry could offer, and women came in handy in soft skills especially in nursing and care for the sick (Pennington 13). Men needed to be moved out of the office and onto the battleground, and women provided the perfect replacements for those men taken out of their offices. By the time the First World War ended, American military women had taken on an active role in the army. One of their major roles was to work as civilian telephone operators and were trained to work efficiently as they relayed information from one point to the other.
They took the same oath that was taken by their male counterparts and were even dubbed “Hello Girls” for the active role they played during the First World War. After the war ended, women took up more active roles by volunteering with other civilian organizations in a bid to provide war relief services that mostly entailed nursing services and transportation. They aligned themselves with international organizations to provide humanitarian relief services. Such organizations included the YMCA, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and other community-based organizations that purposed to provide immediate wartime needs. The war marked a new era for women where they moved from the traditional role of a woman at home to the public sphere whey they actively assisted those injured in the war. Even though their call to service by the military was hesitant, limited and characterized by unequal benefits and treatment, they purposed to assist their country during the time it needed them most. As the peace process ended after the First World War, women took up more responsibilities in the society. They started being recognized in the workplace and sought higher education to have the educational background that was needed to climb the corporate ladder.
When the Second World War broke out in the year 1939, the American government once again called on the women to take up key services that would ensure the country was successful in this war. Women had been quite successful in World War I, and this set a precedent for their roles to be expanded in the military. The military had to recognize formally the role of women when it came to war and to employ them in an official capacity so that they could offer their services adequately. By 1941, 350,000 women had been employed in the US Armed Forces, and they had their branches of services.
These comprised of Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAC), Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), and the Women Accepted for Volunteer Military Services (WAVES) (Sullivan 36). They also took up more roles in the Marines and a certain branch of the Coast Guard known as the SPARS. About 70% of women that served in the armed forces during the Second World War had conventional office jobs like clerks, typists, and mail sorters. The perception might be that these jobs were less glorified as compared to those of the men who actively fought on the battleground. However, these jobs are quite essential in maintaining bureaucratic mechanisms that are needed in warfare. It was also thought that by filling women in office jobs, men could be relieved from these duties and subsequently they would be a significant reinforcement for the armed forces that was already fighting on the ground. Women in the course of this time were not permitted to take part in any armed conflict but the duties they undertook brought them quite close to the military action that was taking place. The roles of women in the Army and Navy medical corps brought them quite close to military conflicts, and it was a dangerous line of work that threatened their lives (Pennington 68).
The British also took an active role in recognizing the role women played in any war that presented itself. In fact, they were the first country in 1938 to establish uniformed services for women in the military. In the late period of 1941, Britain sent most of its female employees into the military especially into the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), which was attached to the army. In 1941, British women were granted military status and were to be paid two-thirds of the wages paid to men. They were trained on how to handle guns, missiles, and planes and were sent into the battle ground as handlers of anti-aircraft guns. Women operated fire-control instruments but were never allowed to pull any trigger as the act of killing an enemy was considered to be too masculine for them. Most women were posted in the AA command, but near London as the country tried to avoid any situation where their women could be captured. At these stations, they were at the risk of being killed but could never be captured. These formed the stage for women the formal recognition of women in the military and for subsequent expansion of their services to the roles, they currently have in the military and peaceful negotiations (Barton C. Hacker 29).
The policy that has greatly limited the role of women in the military is the limitation of combat where women were not expected to be enlisted in any combat unit. This in essence only allowed women to access 67% of the positions available in the military. It is until 2011 that the policy was abolished and currently 95% of the positions in the armed forces are available to women (Barton C. Hacker 86). Female soldiers are now recognized within the armed forces and take up training courses that are designed for them to ensure they have the skills needed to actively take part in combat. The US has been quite active in opening more roles to women and army ranger training are being offered to females to ensure women can take part in more activities within the military set up.
The United Nations has also taken a proactive role to ensure that women can be included in peace processes so as to include gender perceptiveness in decision-making. This has been formalized in resolution 1325 that deals with women, peace, and security. It aims at ending the sexual violence and impunity, and strengthening the participation of women in key decision-making. Peacekeeping and building are a realm that most women are being urged to join by the UN since this is an important aspect of coexistence. One of the key milestones that has been achieved by the UN as regards to women in peace building is the deployment of a peacekeeping unit that consisted of women only into Liberia.
However, there are encounters that are being faced essentially with underrepresentation of women in peace negotiations and national governance. Due to this, policies regarding women do not sufficiently address their issues and can not have the expected impact on the ground. A more active participation of women in peacebuilding and government operation will ensure that advancement can be made for gender equality, and all peacebuilding strategies include the women perspectives.
Barton C. Hacker, Margaret Vining. A Companion to Women’s Military History (History of Warfare). Leiden: Brill Academic Pub, 2012.
Norman, Elizabeth. Women at War: The Story of Fifty Military Nurses Who Served in Vietnam. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.
Pennington, Reina. “Offensive Women: Women in Combat in the Red Army in the Second World War.” Journal of Military History (2010): 775-820.
Sullivan, Jill M. Bands of Sisters: U.S. Women’s Military Bands during World War II (The American Wind Band) . Arizona: Scarecrow Press, 2011.
Womenwarpeace.org. Women, War and Peace. 2015. 8 May 2015. <http://www.womenwarpeace.org/>.