Whether a woman can be a soldier or her primary purpose is to care for children and provide comfort at home when their men are at war is still a contentious issue in many countries.
Female warriors in the image of heroines of Greek mythology have long been an exception to the rule. Still, today, in the 21st century, female police officers and soldiers are no longer a surprise. It is believed that the birthplace of the idea of post-military feminization of the army was Great Britain, wherein in 1653, the first military hospitals appeared, employing the wives of soldiers. In 1917-1919, the Women’s Royal Air Force and the 100,000-strong Women’s Legion Motor Drivers were formed as part of the British armed forces.
Women currently serve in the armies of many countries, where they tend to volunteer.
The exception is Israel where compulsory conscription for both sexes has been legislated since 1959. The IDF Women’s Corps was first established in 1948, and in 1995, through the Israeli Supreme Court, women won the right to serve in the IDF. In 2000, a law was passed allowing them to also serve in combat units. For women, the period of military service in the reserve is up to 38 years. They undergo annual training of up to six weeks. Currently, 90% of the military professions are accessible to Israeli women, and approximately 33% of the IDF’s personnel are women.
Approximately 1,600 women serve in Turkey’s Armed Forces. Turkish women began to be admitted to the military academies in 1955, and from 1957 they became eligible for officer ranks. It follows from Turkish history that Turkish women voluntarily took on the task of defending their country by exhibitingthe same strength and courage as men. Turkish women played an essential role in the fighting during World War I. Today, female officers are very common in all branches of the Turkish Armed Forces except armored vehicles, infantry, and submarines. Their appointments, promotions, and training take place on an equal basis without gender bias.
The presence of women soldiers in the Algerian army was crucial during the Algerian Revolution against colonial France. Algeria is the Arab country with the highest number of high-ranking female commanders. In addition, Algeria has the highest number of female police officers in the Muslim world. The Decree of 28 February 2006 placed the status of women in the armed forces on an equal footing with men.
Women are also present in Libya’s army, where, in particular, a detachment of 200 women provided personal protection for Muammar Gaddafi, sometimes referred to as the Green Nuns or Amazonian Guard as well as the Revolutionary Nuns (Arabic: الراهبات الثوريات).
The United Arab Emirates is home to Khawla Bint Al Azwar Military School, the first military college for women in the Gulf region, open since 2014. Women are given the same training and responsibilities as their male counterparts and participate in humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping operations. Emirati women have reached the highest positions in the UAE Armed Forces, especially in combat units of the Air Force.
In October, Kuwaiti authorities also decided to allow women to serve in the military. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, H.E. Sheikh Hamad Jaber Al-Ali Al-Sabah clarified that Kuwaiti women would not only be eligible for officer positions, they would also be called upon to fight. This statement drew particular attention as the Kuwaiti authorities had only recently been concerned about women’s empowerment, only being allowed to participate and vote in elections in 2005. So far, Kuwaiti women have been allowed to serve only as special officers, non-commissioned officers, and in the rank and file. They are also eligible to work in medical positions and support units of the national army.
Bahrain was a pioneer among the Gulf countries in integrating the weaker sex into the police and military. The Ministry of Defence opened its doors to women more than three decades ago. Key lobbyists for allowing women to serve in the military were members of the royal family, especially H.R.H Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, King Hamad’s first wife, as indicated in the Bahrain Defense Force Royal Medical Services Almanac: The Bahrain Defence Force: The Monarchy’s Second-to-Last Line of Defense Women in Bahrain mainly serve in medical units, as well as in administrative positions.
Saudi Arabia officially opened up to women the possibility of army service in February 2021, when a single portal for accepting applications from female candidates appeared. In the army of Saudi Arabia, women can serve in all branches of the army, with the only age limit: no younger than 18 and no older than 40.
Girls were first enlisted in the Omani Armed Forces in 2011. Then, after a graduation ceremony at the Sultan Qaboos Military Academy, the graduates took the oath of allegiance and enlisted. The Sultanate’s Constitution provides for equal rights for women and men.
Women entered the Jordanian army in 1962 in the Directorate of the Royal Medical Service – after founding the Princess Muna College of Nursing. Since then, many women have joined the military service as police officers, military officers, intelligence service members, and members of the royal guard. The Office for Women in the Armed Forces was established to enable Jordanian women to participate in military life. Today in Jordan, female police officers make up 7 percent of the female public security forces, and dozens of them are involved in peacekeeping operations. Jordanian female soldiers have already fought the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2005, as some Afghan women do not speak to male soldiers. This was the first appointment of Jordanian women outside the Hashemite Kingdom.
Women soldiers in the Eritrean army, comprising over 30 percent of the Eritrean Armed Forces, played a prominent role in both the Eritrean civil war and the border dispute with Ethiopia because they were directly involved in hostilities.
Women have been present in the Pakistani Armed Forces since 1947, after the country’s establishment, and are now essential members. Pakistan is one of the few states in the Islamic world where women are appointed to senior officer positions and perform their military duties during combat operations. In 2006, the first unit of female fighter pilots joined the Pakistan Air Force, and they have been performing combat missions in the sniper, airborne, infantry units, and the navy.
Numerous surveys worldwide show that only 10% of servicewomen agree that women in the military should be held to the same standard as men since they are objectively less physically strong. According to a study in the armies, women are more prone to injuries, twice as likely to suffer leg fractures, and nearly five times more likely to have soft tissue lacerations.
Despite this, women in the East have shown their essential role in the security of their states and the national armed forces. Women have already established themselves in the military sphere, which men have monopolized for many decades. The number of women in the military is expected to increase because of their advances and the alarming political situation in a world that needs more defenders.
Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.