Women in combat are nothing new, though war has historically been a male-dominated venue. Next week the United States Army recognizes the contributions of women in fighting our Nation’s wars in a series of luncheons were distinguished women warriors will share their experiences with audiences at garrisons around the globe. “Women at Arms” is the title of a New York Times series on the topic. (See link “Women at Arms” at right.) The Times series is pretty much full spectrum, with a lot of focus on the “manly stuff of combat.” ABC news ran a story recently on the efforts of our Marines to use female Marines to collect human intelligence from Afghan women and to further encourage these women to keep their men from supporting the Taliban. (See link “Marines Try a Woman’s Touch” at right.) The Marines are demonstrating cultural sensitivity and out of the box thinking in their efforts to support counter-insurgency operations through the use of their “Lioness” unit.
Out NATO allies and their Civil-Military Co-Operation Centre of Excellence (CCOE), at http://www.cimic-coe.org have devoted much time and effort to studying women in combat and have produced some worthwhile studies of not just women, but the at times confusing topics of sexuality and gender and how a clearer understanding of these topics enhances combat effectiveness, especially in stability operations. As one CCOE publication, GENDER MAKES SENSE (link “CCOE GENDER MAKES SENSE” at right), states:
Why should Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC), as a force capability
within NATO, incorporate gender awareness (GA) into NATO missions?
Simply because from previous peace operations we have learned that it
contributes greatly to the success of the mission. In addition, it
improves the safety of the military organisation. Thus, gender
awareness is not just an obligation, it is an absolute necessity.
GENDER MAKES SENSE provides useful information on how NATO military should interact with women during the conduct of peacekeeping and stability operations and includes suggestions for facilitating the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of female combatants. This publication is not focused only on the gentler sex, but also takes up the not insignificant issues of the relationship between beards, rifles and manliness in certain cultures. (Hint, they are not all Taliban, just a bit insecure, so don’t immediately shoot them on site.)
To take this a step further, into stability operations and hopefully conflict transformation, I would like to point out the work of certain NGOs such as “Pennies for Peace.” Pennies for Peace receives no funding the United States Government and is by no means a partner of US or NATO military, nor does it serve as a force multiplier, but it is part of the environment in Afghanistan. It does not support anyone fighting in Afghanistan. What it does support is the education of young Afghan girls by building and equipping schools for that purpose. Many believe that educated women are less likely to let their babies grow up to be Taliban. (See link to “Teach a Girl, Change the World” at right for more information about this NGO and its programs.)
A good friend once told me that electrification and female education programs showed the greatest payoff in economic development and stabilization. With that in mind, as we consider “people’s war” and attempt to fight counterinsurgencies that are “80% political and 20% military” and dissuade disgruntled “non-compliant actors” from becoming “irregular adversaries” and insurgents, we should enlist as many women overseas to join us. This can be controversial. When you teach women to read and write and show them there is more to being a woman than having seven to ten children (and preferably boys), you upset certain mullahs and mujahedeen. But there are certain men, even in Afghanistan, who appreciate intelligent women, women who can persuade them not to fight.