Historically, women had roles in the army. They participated in the wars as camp followers and even taken up roles such as cleaning, cooking, and mending equipment and clothes, mostly for the male soldiers. The women shared the harsh conditions associated with battlefields such as long marches, hunger, cold, and heat among other strenuous treatment. However, towards the end of 19th century, the tradition of camp followers stopped being into existence. This made women put men’s attires and distinguish themselves as men so as to take part in the military. Between the late 19th century and Second World War, women were not allowed to play any role in the army, except being just nurses. For a long term, there has been a debate whether women should participate in the frontline. Equal rights activists and feminists assert that women should be allowed to serve in the frontline. Nonetheless, there are government officials and military personnel who feel otherwise. These people argue that women should not be on the frontline, despite having served in wars in different roles. Women have participated in wars for several years including the American Revolution whereby they were exposed to death, combat, and capture. Therefore, women are capable of fighting on the front line without interfering with the military units they serve in just like their male counterparts.
The perception that women should not serve in front line changed in 1994 when the defense department declared that women should be allowed to take up different roles in the military. The department emphasized women should not be denied certain roles during the war on the basis that they are dangerous. Frontline is defined as operating dangerous weapons in addition to taking part in the direct or ground fighting. Front line fighting is also defined as war whereby the soldier moves closer to the enemy through maneuver, fire or shock with the intention of repelling or capturing the culprit. In the modern day battlefields, it is challenging to identify front line. This is because the lines are blurred, particularly when women are assigned roles that sent them so near to the front line and some extent expose them to ground combats. In other words, support roles in actual sense place women in the frontline. Nonetheless, the military has failed to acknowledge women and their roles in the battlefield despite proving that they can successfully handle the job (Abbott, Melissa and Claire 8). Therefore, it is unfair for the military to apply the front line exclusion rule when the roles that they assign women place them in combat positions.
Another issue of concern is women being captured during the war. The military worry that the enemies might capture women soldiers, and this can interfere with the civilians’ morale Even though it is not a widely known fact, for several decades women have been taken captives. They have been prisoners of wars in both Civil War and Second World War II. Thus, this should not be a matter of concern, because men have never been exempted from being captives. Citing Abbott, Melissa and Claire (13), regardless of the gender capture, both males and females are subjected to same treatment such as deprivation, starvation, physical and psychological torture. Van Creveld (5) argues that there are high risks of women being raped or molested in the event of capture. However, the risks are the same even with men. Therefore, the fear of women captives being sexually molested should not be a basis for denying them opportunities to serve on the front lines.
Additionally, the physical strength of women has been questioned when it comes to positioning them in the frontline. The military training is intense coupled with vigorous exercises. Citing Creveld (10), in case women are subjected to proper training just like their male counterparts, then they are in a position to acquire all the physical requirements to survive combat. It would be an illusion to believe that all men who register for basic military training meet the stated basic requirements. This is same to women. Therefore, if men can acquire strength and successfully complete the training process, so can women. Consequently, strength varies per individual. Some women can be stronger than men and vice versa. More importantly, stamina and strength are required for particular jobs. However, in some roles, strength has no bearing, and this is also applicable in the military. Therefore, both women and men should be allowed to compete for same job opportunities without being discriminated based on gender.
Furthermore, some critics use the issue of pregnancy. In some wars, such as the Gulf War, women were not allowed to participate. For example, following the deployment of women to Saudi Arabia, a high percentage of female soldiers were sent back home because they were pregnant. It was believed that the action interfered with the number of troops, an element that interfered with the unit. Nonetheless, it is important to note that pregnancy among women is not the only factor that contributes to combat readiness. People should not use it to decide whether or not women should serve on the front line. This is because of other factors that interfere with combat readiness such as family problems and illness, and men too suffer from the same (Abbott, Melissa and Claire 19).
It is also believed that including women in the front line interferes with group cohesion. According to Adie (22), it is only possible to realize cohesion if all the military members are subjected to equal treatment. Creveld (12) adds that if men perceive women to be different from them, then there is a possibility of conflicts between the two. This would make men focus on proving that they are better than their female counterparts. This will distract them from their roles, hence causing causalities/deaths. Therefore, it is important to adopt a standard that will make all the servicemen feel part of a unit without being discriminated by their gender. Besides, working as a unit in the event of war involves not only risking one’s life but also building an intense and intimate relationship. This is possible to achieve regardless of the gender. Developing unit through war games is possible. This would assist both genders to get used to one another, learn and depend on one another for survival while in the battlefield.
Moreover, it is evident that men have adopted the idea that they are born as warriors and society portray them so. According to the society fabrications, men are born as aggressors; hence they are fit to fight. On the other hand, women are portrayed as weak; hence they should not take active roles in wars. Adie (6) asserts that it is important for men to accept the fact that women are ready to fight beside them in the battlefields and can effectively undertake all roles assigned to them. This would make men to accomplish a lot as working with women would yield more results compared to being against them.
Nonetheless, throughout the history, there have been extra possibilities of permitting women to take active roles in the army. This has been met with objections from the society. For instance, between 1949 and 1992, recruited women could only work in the Women’s Royal Army Corps. In 1980, there was a possibility of arming the women. However, there were protests against the same, particularly from the media arguing that the society was not prepared for a change in women’s roles. The society’s attitude is one of the barriers that should be eliminated if women are to be allowed to serve in front line (Adie 30).
In conclusion, it is evident that the reasons given to exclude women from serving on the front lines are not sufficient. This is because the differences between women and men given to deter women from participating in the front lines are minimal and insignificant. Additionally, there might be moral and social problems that the military should tackle to allow women to participate in combats. However, the problems should not prevent the formulation of changes. The primary barrier to women serving in the front line is purely men’s attitude. Overall, there are no permanent barriers that prevent women from taking active roles in the battlefields. Most of the presented reasons are social imposed, and they can be tackled easily with the adoption of right measures. Therefore, it is possible that soon more women will be serving in the military and take active roles in the front line.
Abbott, Pamela, Melissa Tyler, and Claire Wallace. An introduction to sociology: Feminist perspectives. 3rd ed., London: Routledge, 2006.
Adie, Kate. Corsets to camouflage: Women and war. Hachette UK, 2004.
Creveld, Martin van. Men, women and war: Do women belong in the frontline. London: Cassel, 2001.
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