The Importance of Gender Mainstreaming in Military Spaces

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Isabelle Friedt, munitions systems specialist
Image: Flickr/Indiana National Guard

By Girogia Piantanida

Men have long dominated military spaces—today, only about 27 percent of the US military is female. Historically, the military recruited the men of families to fight, and with men simultaneously being the only ones in power, they quickly became dominated by them. When analyzed through traditional gendered stereotypes, women do not belong in military spaces, which are drenched in violence, unkempt, and centered around fighting. While men can traditionally enter those spaces and engage in the mandated activities, society expects women to remain at home, away from the violence and tending to more peaceful spaces like a family. Thanks to waves of feminist movements, these understandings have begun to shift, but the core of militaries remains the same. 

Gender mainstreaming is the tactic most often cited when speaking about folding more women into militarized spaces. Mainstreaming is the practice of integrating gender equality at all levels of policy-making and levels of power to ensure that no space is occupied solely by one gender. Though it has been in practice for decades, it has not produced the results we would expect to see in terms of gender equality. 

The term gender sidestreaming, which speaks on the practice, deliberate or not, of sidelining women into peacekeeping spaces and low-rank military positions, helps explain this phenomenon. Sidestreaming is an immense problem because it does not ensure gender equality, as certain roles continue to be dominated by men. Still, it seems to solve the issue because the overall participation numbers and percentages improve. 

Women have a distinctly different understanding of life and society from men because of gender differences. Different does not inherently mean better; it just means distinct. But it is essential because having a divergent approach and life experience allows leaders to see and understand different problems and seek other solutions for them that they otherwise would not have.

Applying a gendered perspective to militaries and armed warfare can be an important strategy to widen the focus of military operations and ensure an increased focus on non-traditional military strategy and goals. There is also the important concern of providing that the military is truly living the ideals it claims to be fighting for. If the army vows to fight for freedom, equality, and justice, then it cannot be against those values by excluding women and/or segregating them into low-skilled positions. To fight for certain ideals, the military itself has a duty to represent those ideals. 

Militaries must ensure that there are more honest, committed efforts to true gender mainstreaming today. A fraction of the armed forces are staffed by women, which must change if we want an inclusive, effective military that can face all the challenges of today. Modern warfare is evolving and changing and having more perspectives to influence it will be essential in increasing its effectiveness. The contributions that women can make are uniquely different from those of men due to the vastly different lived experiences, and they are contributions that will only serve to cover previously unknown blind spots. Applying a gendered perspective and folding women into the forces at all levels of power will be the most effective way to ensure increased effectiveness.

Giorgia is a current graduate student in International Security at the Università di Trento and Scuola Superiore di Sant’Anna Pisa in Italy. She is interested in the intersections between climate change and human security, focusing on people flow and global justice. 






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