Women In The Armed Forces: Are We A Regressive Society?

Sanya Talwar
10 Feb 2020 12:00 PM GMT
Women In The Armed Forces: Are We A Regressive Society?
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"Women are often associated with peace and men are often associated with warfare"
This deep-rooted association of gender with tight-roped, often vacuum-sealed roles has been embossed throughout most cultures in history. Since war has usually been defined as a male activity encompassed with "highly-valued" masculine characteristics, the image of women warriors has been seen as inherently unsettling, entailing a symbolic rupture with the dominant gender order based on separation of male and female[1]. Despite various myths and tales of female warriors throughout history as well as accounts of female battalions serving in combat zones, the participation of women in war fighting reveals a pattern of exclusion & omission.

While we have come across accounts of "Rani of Jhansi" blazing through the battlefield, or the famous "I am not afraid, I was born to do this" by Joanne of Arc, the exclusion of women from 'regular' war and combat activities has been systematic since times immemorial, not only in India but across the globe.

It is pertinent to shed light on the fact that women served extensively as functionaries of the armed forces during the two world wars. The utilization of female forces during the world wars by USSR remains one of the rare exceptions of women serving in combat. It is also noteworthy that after de-escalation of war, the presence women in the armed forces became residual in nature. Most countries of the world have followed the exclusion and omission of women from armed forces after the world wars ended.

As stated by Mady Segal[2], "what has happened in the past in many nations is that when the armed forces need women, their prior military history is recalled to demonstrate that they can perform effectively in various positions. There is a process of cultural amnesia regarding the contributions women made during emergency situations, until a new emergency arises and then history is rediscovered".

A number of factors ranging from the existing social structures, prevailing stigmas, pre-conceived notions as well as social conditioning has led to the exclusion and omission of female officers from combat-zones. India is undoubtedly no exception to this phenomenon.

The representations of the Central Government against denying female officers permanent commissions and commanding posts rests on the patriarchal framework of our society that has existed since centuries. Reasons of women being physically "weaker" have been cited as the genesis for disallowing women from being posted in combat-zones, even though history (and the present) is fraught with examples of female valour, both on the battlefield and otherwise.

The stand taken by the Government, while justifying the denial of Female Officers the right to hold commanding posts, pointed out that male troops would be "unable" to take commands from female superior's[3] in the armed forces.

This statement brings to light a chilling specter of the regressive mindset of not only the "governors" but also of the "governed". Undoubtedly, the Government has not only justified sexism but in doing so, has further solidified gender roles. Even though these assertions are supremely contrary to the positive narrative of feminist beliefs and deficient of everything that women have been trying to fight against, they also earmark the unprecedented sexism and patriarchy that is excessively deep-rooted in our society at all levels.

This in no way means that equality will be achieved in the absence of fair representation and formal organizational equality. However, it is extremely relevant to create positive shits in the cultural conceptions of gender relations in every iota of the Indian society.

While it is extremely important to encompass structural changes in the existing framework and bringing about normatively positive policies that create inclusion and diversity, greater and actual inclusiveness shall depend on shifting focus from only blaming the regressive mindset of the Government to actually finding solutions that inculcate inclusiveness

[1] Images of Women in Peace and War. Cross-Cultural and Historical Perspectives, eds S. Macdonald et al. London: Macmillan.

[2] Diversity & Citizenship in Modern Military Organization, Turkish Journal of Sociology,

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