In the days when gender equality for a lot of people is considered a prolonged fight with a lot of victories, examples such as the unequal participation of women in the military and peace-keeping within Europe can be considered a reason to continue this fight. While there are several examples of women promoting peace and security worldwide, there is limited recognition and representation of women in the military.
This article was inspired by the unequal coverage of female efforts to be included in security and peace operations in Europe. Cultural solidarity in armed conflict has been and remains a crucial part of the progress of gender equality. Nevertheless, the majority of European countries are far from achieving the balance and promoting diversity in military personnel.
What can be described as a poor attempt of empowering women to participate in security and peace roles, justifies the significantly low admission of women in the military, especially in Europe.
Today, only 11 European Union (EU) nations allow women to be enlisted in the front line amongst other combat positions and these are Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Sweden. The remaining 16 nations still prohibit or restrict the participation of women in the military.
The EU parliament explains that women also hold a minority of decision-making positions in public and private military institutions. For instance, #SHEcurity Index results have found that women are still excluded from certain positions in the armed forces even when they meet the same physical standards as male comrades.
The involvement of women in, not only military missions but also conflict prevention and resolution as well as political leadership makes the case that military and peace-keeping operations can be more effective with women’s engagement. Additionally, the Council of the EU has significantly acknowledged that conflict management operations are not gender-neutral and adopted conclusions on women, peace, and security (WPS).
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security adopted in 2000 emphasizes the importance of inclusion and equal participation of women in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of security around the world.
The EU remains a landmark signatory of the UNSC resolution. While other conclusions such as gender politics and financial initiatives among the EU action plan are at play, it can be argued that progress towards gender equality in Europe remains fragile.
While we can see a pattern of EU countries restricting female participation in defense and peace-keeping, in other EU nations it is a mandate for men to complete military sentences. The countries of Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, and Lithuania require male nationals at the age of 18 or 19 years old to report to their national military. The only exception is Sweden, which requires both males and females. Military sentences can last for a maximum of 12 to 15 months depending on the country.
At this point, it is important to highlight the gender inequality found in national military requirements between females and males. The inequality, of course, does not only apply to the imitated admission opportunities for women in joining the military but the obligation of males to do so. While some people can see this as an honor for men to give up to 15 months of their lives to be trained to defend their country, it also highlights the underestimation of women’s abilities to equally do so.
Moreover, we must take into consideration that not all men wish to fight. Forced conscription in cases of war, forces men to stay behind and risk their lives. Not doing so comes with consequences of shame and even the questioning of the socially constructed ‘‘manliness’’ of males.
What can be argued to be a mortification surrounding men who do not wish to fight does not apply to women who are considered in danger and must always be protected. Even though the intentions of the UNSC and the EU aim to include women in security, the deeply embedded binary stereotypes when it comes to military actions of states continue to dominate.
Post-patriarchal security and the discard of gender prejudices in the military are necessary to meet the aims and agendas of the UNSC and the EU. Sadly, discrimination around inclusivity persists and women remain significantly under-represented. It is high time that resolutions and action plans were implemented with increased commitment.
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