It’s hard to believe that in 2011, the debate over whether women belong in war zones – whether as soldiers or journalists – is still raging.
In the past couple of weeks, there have been heated discussions on this theme.
The issue I have with it is – whether anyone likes it or not, women ARE in war zones. In various parts of the world, at different times, they’ve lived in them. As much as some would like to believe that women are generally kept protected, it is just not true.
Some think women don’t belong on the front line and don’t belong in war – but there’s really only one way that kind of thinking can head: Women should be protected to the point they must stay in their homes and not occupy public spaces.
Women should have the freedom to travel any public space without fear of attack due to their gender.
Recently, journalist Lara Logan suffered an attack by a mob of between 200 and 300 men – an attack that continued for 40 minutes. The male bodyguard and male cameramen who were with her were not attacked (and were also not able to save Lara, due to the there being so many men involved.) She was set upon for the mere fact of being female.
Ms. Logan, a CBS News correspondent, was in the square preparing a report for “60 Minutes” on Feb. 11 when the celebratory mood suddenly turned threatening. She was ripped away from her producer and bodyguard by a group of men who tore at her clothes and groped and beat her body. “For an extended period of time, they raped me with their hands,” Ms. Logan said in an interview with The New York Times. She estimated that the attack involved 200 to 300 men.
Before the assault, Ms. Logan said, she did not know about the levels of harassment and abuse that women in Egypt and other countries regularly experienced. “I would have paid more attention to it if I had had any sense of it,” she said. “When women are harassed and subjected to this in society, they’re denied an equal place in that society. Public spaces don’t belong to them. Men control it. It reaffirms the oppressive role of men in the society.”
But it isn’t the case that if women stay protected and out of public places, they will not be assaulted.
War and systemetic attacks come to women and children, regardless.
During the Liberian civil war, “it was the men who inflicted harm on women, and most of the time the sufferers were women and children,” said Annie Abraham, 45, the commanding officer of the Indian unit that just finished its rotation and was replaced by new recruits. “When you have male peacekeepers, you get the feeling that the women are more intimidated. Women aren’t as aggressive as the men. Women don’t speak as loudly as the men.”
In an interesting move by the United Nations, women are being trained as peace keepers – for their female attributes. There is an all-female United Nations police unit from India.
When female soldiers are present, the situation is closer to real life, and as a result the men tend to behave,” said Gerard J. DeGroot, a history professor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who has written books about women in the military. “Any conflict where you have an all-male army, it’s like a holiday from reality. If you inject women into that situation, they do have a civilizing effect.
It’s an interesting concept, where the state of being female is a valuable asset in a war zone or place ravaged by war.
Recently, the Australian show, Insight, posed the question, do women belong in the armed forces? And should women be on the front line, in hand-to-hand combat situations? Former captain, Israeli army, Ted Lapkin, called it ’lunacy’.
TED LAPKIN: This is a debate that has been raging for some years now. I have never heard one of the exponents of the ‘women in combat’ side of the argument say that somehow, this is going to enhance the war fighting side of the military. It’s an institution that is unique and separate and apart from any other facit of human society – It’s a killing machine. In the military you receive medals and promotions for doing things that would earn you a cell with your name on it in civilian life – killing people. Therefore the entire institution is organised according to a much more rigorous set of behavioural expectations, regulations in order to prepare it so it can function on the battlefield, which is very brutal. I would argue that the principles of equal opportunity that are valid and quite applicable at the NAB or in ‘city street’, in a civilian work place are not applicable in the military.
I understand his thought pattern – that women have the wrong ‘mindset’ for battle. He’s saying women are softer, are nuturers, and shouldn’t be expected to become killing machines. So, for a woman to fight must be ‘against her nature’ – women can only be victims, they must never fight back or be the aggressors. But why then, do so many women want to join the armed forces? If it truly was against their nature to defend and fight, why would any woman sign up for it?
It’s true that if you pit a women against a man in hand-to-hand combat, most times, the woman would lose. But as it was pointed out in the show, hand-to-hand combat situations are not as frequent as they were in the first two world wars.
Lapkin says, ‘I have never heard one of the exponents of the ‘women in combat’ side of the argument say that somehow, this is going to enhance the war fighting side of the military.’
But as I posted above, Gerard J. DeGroot, a history professor who has researched women in war, says, ‘Any conflict where you have an all-male army, it’s like a holiday from reality.’ Perhaps it is true that men and women balance each other and we need both in conflict.
In Mexico, (Ciadid Jaurez) and Guatemala, there’s a culture of violence against women who step outside their homes. Hundreds of young girls and women have been taken, tortured and murdered – then tossed into fields and garbage heaps as a warning to others.
Savagely tortured and murdered in 2001, Esmeralda is among nearly 500 teenagers and young women — factory workers, shop clerks, prostitutes — who have been murdered here since 1993. Hundreds more have simply vanished.
For years, Mexican authorities have promised an end to the slaughter and the disappearances. Movies have been filmed about the butchery, books and countless articles written, protest marches marched. Under intense public pressure, police investigations were launched, task forces formed, suspects arrested.
It’s all been nearly for naught.
Femicide is a war against women. Thousands are killed, raped, tortured because they are women – especially if they are women out in the domain of men (public spaces). In Guatemala, authorities do little about this femicide. It isn’t seen as war by many, because it isn’t being faught on a battlefield, or doesn’t involve men against men.
Franco described typical cases, in which, women may first be abducted, subjected to severe beatings, rape, sexual mutilation, perverse torture, or dismemberment then killed and subsequently deposited in public areas. “These are young women who don’t fit a traditional mold. They are mothers working to support their children, young girls putting themselves through school and many of them, professional and independent” she told The Raritan Journal, later adding, “Because they assert themselves into public spaces, they’re specifically being targeted.”
I don’t think you can separate women and war. War doesn’t happen on some far off planet, fought by men against men. Women and children do not always stay protected. Women do not not always want to stay protected – some wish to fight. And women can bring qualities to the armed forces – a balance. I believe we need women in all areas – especially as leaders in the fight for peace, alongside men. And hopefully, there’s better ways than wars to restore peace.