History of warfare, down the ages covering a period of 4000 years beginning from 3500BC till today is replete with instances of women soldiers going to battle to defend their country, for their kingdom or for an interest perceived as vital during that particular period. From the moment Queen Vishapla (Rigvedic Period in 3500 BC) had her leg fitted with a prosthetic limb to permit her to rejoin battle to Jessica Lynch giving active duty during the Iraq war; the saga of women soldiers in combat has indeed traversed a long journey.
The role of women in combat has been a moot point, with supporters citing sex discrimination and equal opportunity on the one hand, opposed vehemently by people equally convinced about the impracticality of women in combat role on the grounds of perceived physiological, psychological, and physical vulnerabilities on the other hand. In the modern context, the role of women in to assignments other than nursing started taking place only after World War I (Loring 21). World War II led to a crisis of manpower which led to most of the armies permitting women in the logistics and medicare branches with a discriminatory pay scale and rank structure. The anomaly was later redressed by the concerned Governments (Friedl 11).
Claim I am of the opinion that women soldiers should not be permitted in combat since I believe that their inherent vulnerabilities and the social consequences, far outweigh the advantages of employing them in combat.
Physical concerns It is believed that on an average, the physical constitution of women is weaker than that of men, and hence their ability to endure privations, rough conditions, poor hygiene and stress of war is limited as compared to their male colleagues.
Tactical-psychological concerns The presence of a woman in the ranks is not always a welcome proposition to the male colleagues, and it is possible that the level of trust may not be up to the desired level. The possibility of romance is yet another unwelcome possibility as it is a major distraction. It is standard practice by personnel of most armies of the world to ill treat POWs. In the Asian countries and in case of Islamic fighters, it is standard practice to brutally torture and badly mutilate the POWs before death. What would these people do to a woman soldier captured in combat? Would the consequences at a national level be palatable? At a closer level, in the tactical frame, it could trigger a protective and fraternal instinct amongst the male colleagues, which could unleash savage reprisals on the perceived enemy (which could include civilians). The consequences could be disastrous.
Changing patterns of conflicts In the modern day scenario, the process of war can be split up in to two distinct phases- the initial war wherein the enemy forces are over run by superior technology aimed at complete annihilation of the enemyï¿½s infrastructure and the war waging capability. This phase is the easiest to achieve and is done so from an adequate stand off distance by technologically superior fighter jets and machines on ground. The second phase is the hardest, trickiest and the most troublesome one as it involves direct conflict in one to one combat with the enemy soldiers(in most cases-irregulars, but just as well trained and with higher motivation levels) when the worst instincts of mankind are brought to bear to destroy the morale and will of the enemyï¿½s remaining forces. This is the most protracted and resource intensive period of the conflict. As an example, take a look at Iraq, or at Afghanistan. The war continuesï¿½ with no immediate end in sight. The enemy elements who make up the second half of this campaign are battle hardened, ruthless, religious zealots, who are convinced of the superiority of their faith and whose motivation levels provides them a state of mind, wherein death is a welcome occurrence in life. For such men, a womanï¿½s place is at home and if one dares to do battle, she should be dealt with even more ruthlessly than her male counterpart. Considering these facts, is it not advisable to have a repeat of the Mogadishu incident wherein one of our male soldiers was severely ill-treated after death. Media reports of the incident caused such a furore in the US, that the entire Force was recalled within a short while. Now, imagine the nationï¿½s plight, if a similar incident was to occur and the victim is a woman soldier! Or an incident similar to the Daniel Pearl case? I do not think that I need to state the likely reactions from the nation or the soldiers/colleagues presently deployed in these fighting zones. It would unleash a spontaneous series of retaliatory measures as acts of retribution.
Social Concerns-Swirls Effect When a pebble is thrown in to a still water body, it creates swirls which expand centrifugally from the point of impact. When a woman soldier in combat suffers a fatal casualty, depending upon whether she is a mother or not, the family she leaves behind is irreversibly affected. To a great extent the same holds true for the male colleague, but the surviving mother is much more capable of bringing up the family as a unit. In the same vein, in most cultures and societies, men do not take easily to the presence of a woman in the fighting ranks, neither do they like to take orders.Similarly, the effect that the news of a badly injured woman soldier has on the people back home is devastating and most people react negatively to it. The woman soldier has a comparatively shorter shelf life as a combatant, since motherhood and family obligations catch up after a period of time. In developing countries, soldiering is considered as a viable employment option. A women soldier in combat roles implies reduction of vacancies in the fighting arms (infantry, Armored Corps etc) for males who may be the sole bread winners of the family in most countries. This has a spiraling effect on the unemployment figures and economic problems of these affected countries.
Concept of Human Rights The western world has a clearly demarcated and enunciated policy of human rights and by and large, they are very well taken care of. The developing world, and this is where the US and the western countries are likely to be involved in the future wars, however; does not share the same concern for human rights. Incidents of violations are routine and not taken so seriously. In case a woman soldier becomes a hostage, the resulting negotiations will force the government to make major concessions to an otherwise beaten enemy apart from the brutality and humiliation that she may be forced to undergo. This is presuming the captors have not already ill-treated the captive before the negotiations begin.
Counter Claims The proponents of the proposal to induct women in combat role base their claim on the principles of gender equality, sex discrimination, and enhanced ability of the concerned nation to broaden the recruitment base and such like issues. On principles, this is sound reasoning as it does not take in to account the other pragmatic factors that have been discussed in this essay. The critical feminists view the role of women soldiers in combat as a ï¿½symbol of power for governance and freedom from patriarchyï¿½ (Skaine 45)
Conclusion To conclude, it is again reiterated that the proposal of employing women soldiers in combat is not pragmatic and should not be implemented in the existing environment when different countries view human rights and treatment of enemy soldiers differently. The women soldiers are best employed in the logistics, administrative and medical branches of the Defence Forces.
Nancy Loring Goldman; Female Soldiers--Combatants or Noncombatants? : Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (Greenwood Press, 1982), 21
Rosemarie Skaine; Women at War: Gender Issues of Americans in Combat (Mcfarland, 1999) 45
Vanderwerker, Earl, Jr MD ï¿½A Brief Review of the History of Amputations and Prosthesesï¿½ JACPOC 1976 Vol 15, Num 5, PP 15-16, extracted on 05 May 07 from
Vicki L. Friedl; Women in the United States Military, 1901-1995: A Research Guide and Annotated Bibliography Greenwood Press, 1996(11)