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Changing the way we think
If all women had rights equal to those enjoyed by men, would there still be war?
It is often said that it’s men who wage war and start conflicts but that it is women and children who are most affected by the consequences. Equally, many unstable countries do not allow women to exercise their rights. Is this a coincidence?
Women are often stereotyped as peacekeepers as opposed to warmongering men, and therefore the argument goes, that because of their more peaceful natures’, their inclusion in more decision-making positions would result in less conflict. This does not always hold true; Margaret Thatcher may have been an anomaly.
The more persuasive argument is that the marginalization of women has a profound impact on global security. If we are to deal successfully with any of the security challenges of the 21st century, then we need to do so collectively, and not by disenfranchising half of society.
It is true that we need to include more women in post-conflict resolution decision-making at all levels, and that in general the figures show we have been extremely poor at this. But we also need to improve the roles and opportunities for women in our armed forces and think more often about gender and its impacts.
The different point of view that women bring to the military is crucial to the success of UNSCR 1325. In Afghanistan for example, NATO has focused on gender perspectives, changing how it runs operations by adding gender advisors in leadership roles – not all of whom are women because gender is not just a female issue.
In doing this, the military has begun to adjust how it approaches even simple things like patrolling. This has had a great effect on how troops engage with local people, including women.
Some of this progress can be attributed to putting more women, or in one country’s case female-only teams, out on patrols. But it is difficult to put more women on patrol when there aren’t enough of them working in the forces; many countries have woeful female participation rates.
Women in war
The armed forces represent a significant area where female participation is low, and where it is crucially needed. It sounds oxymoronic to suggest that women who choose to be in the armed forces could act as peacemakers, but that they would have something different to contribute is undeniable.
There are many reasons why women join the armed forces and then leave, or don’t join at all. Culture is a large factor, both societal and the one projected by the industry, but there are others issues such as human resource management which also play an important role. Take maternity leave for example. Having to leave children while going on deployment often means that women exit the service after falling pregnant.
If we want more qualified women participating in decision-making role, we need to look at home as well as abroad. We need to think more about how we can better accommodate mothers and women into the forces, and how we can use their experience. Without this the number of women participating in important military roles is not going to increase.
This piece has been written in response to an article written by the US Mission to the European Union, posted Thursday 13 June 2013 on their Facebook page.