There have been some very famous female warriors in history, such as Boudicca; who led a fierce resistance to Roman rule in England, The Trung Sisters; who led an all-female army against Chinese occupation of Vietnam in the 1st century AD, St Joan of Arc; who led the entire forces of France against the English at age 17 in the 15th Century and Septima Zenobia; who ruled Syria from 250 to 275 AD and was the scourge of Rome.
Therefore, it seems strange that it took modern armies so long to officially allow females to serve in combat alongside their male counterparts. Thanks to various cultural and political movements of the 20th century, women now play crucial roles in the armed forces of many nations. Because of this cultural shift, military apparel has infiltrated everyday fashion such as hats, scarves, and boots. Evidence for this can be seen by running off a quick search for ‘military hat’ or ‘aviator sunglasses’, of which there seems to be a never-ending supply.
The army is also a popular theme for student fancy dress nights such as this one in Glamorgan where female patrons can let their hair down and dress like G.I. Jane. This penchant for military dressing up also extends to paint-balling wherein female participation has grown over recent years. This can again be accredited to a shift in popular culture due to TV shows that feature such activity, particularly The Big Bang Theory and Peep Show. Fortunately [unlike the army] in this event all of the equipment is real apart from the guns and bullets!
To further this celebration of female fighters in the forces, here follow ten interesting facts about countries that recognise the value and valour of women in the armed forces.
1) The United States of America
Women have served in the US Military since 1775 but their early roles consisted of support roles such as nurses, seamstresses, cooks and cleaners; roles which were not included amongst uniformed personnel until relatively recently ( in the 20th Century). However, females now serve in 91% of US Army occupations and account for 14% of the active Army. Furthermore, assignment policy changes introduced in 2012 mean that a further 14 000 positions closer to the frontline are now available to women.
2) The United Kingdom
There are over 187 000 people serving in the British Armed Forces and around 17 and a half thousand of them are women, with 3760 female officers. In 2008, around a fifth of the service personnel in Afghanistan were female and many served in frontline roles. However, women are not permitted to engage in roles which involve close combat where the main purpose is to engage and kill the enemy. Nevertheless, the guerrilla tactics of opposing forces in many modern theatres of war dictate that no matter which roles women play, they are often in extreme danger the moment they leave their base camps.
Women have fought alongside men in the Soviet and Russian military forces in various conflicts and in 2002 100 000 women from a total number of almost one million serving Russian combatants were female. In World War I, the Women’s Battalion of Death recruited members between the ages of 13 and 25 and fought in the June Offensive against German forces in 1917. In World War II, over 800 000 women fought in the Russian military, many of them in frontline roles as snipers, aviators, machine gunners, tank drivers and medics. 200 000 Soviet women were decorated in the conflict, and 89 received The Hero of the Soviet Union award; the highest military award available. Amongst these recipients of the most coveted Soviet award was Maria Raskova; a sublimely skilled and courageous aviator.
Women were first officially enlisted into the Bundeswehr; the German Military, in 2001. Although only 244 women joined in the first year, there are now over 17 000 serving females, and they account for around 9% of the entire German forces. However, German women did serve in the military during World War II in auxiliary units in the Navy, Air Force and Army.
Israel is the only nation on Earth which has a mandatory military service requirement for women and females have been a part of the Israeli Armed Forces since before the state was officially founded. 33% of current Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) are female and 51% of officers. Furthermore, equality legislation introduced in 2000 means that 92% of all roles are open to women and females can now be found in around 70% of positions. In 2011, Orna Barbivai became the first female Major-General of the IDF.
6) Sri Lanka
The Sri-Lanka Army Women’s Corp was founded in 1979 and was originally an unarmed support unit formed to aid the regular army. Thus, the roles of women in the corps included nursing, clerical work, communications, mechanics, doctors and technicians. However, after hostilities began in Sri Lanka in 1987, members of the Corps were allowed to serve as Army Instructors and by the last phase of the hostility female units were involved in direct combat missions.
The Lottorna is the Swedish Women’s Voluntary Defence Service and is part of the Swedish Home Guard. It is named after the fictitious heroine of a poem by Johan Ludvig Runeberg and was founded in 1924. Women currently account for around 5% of Sweden’s Armed Forces.
Women have officially served in the Armed Forces of Poland since 1988 and can be found serving in Land Forces, the Air Force and the Navy as well as other regular cadre corps and have recently served in Iraq and Darfur. Although females only account for around 1.5% of the current total Polish Armed Forces, there are have traditionally been few restrictions on the roles which females can fulfil. In World War II, Polish women made a massive contribution to the war effort: taking combat and intelligence roles in the resistance movement, where 50 000 females joined and 3000 lost their lives during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Meanwhile, 5000 women served in the regular armed forces during that conflict.
Women first served with the Canadian Military as nurses in 1885 and almost 3000 served in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps where they also received paramilitary training in case they were required for home guard duties. By the time of World War II, 45 000 women were recruited for military roles other than nursing and by the late 80s all military occupations were opened to females except submarine roles, although these were also opened up in 2000. Currently, 15 % of Canadian Armed Forces are female and 2% of combat troops are women.
10) Libya- The Amazonian Guard
‘The Amazonian Guard’ was the name given to Muhammar Gadaffi’s elite group of all-female bodyguards. Formed in the early 1980s, Gadaffi reputedly preferred females for these dangerous roles because he thought that potential Arab assassins would baulk at the thought of firing upon women.
Gadaffi usually travelled with a unit of 15 of these guards, who were highly trained in firearms and martial arts techniques and rather bizarrely, had to take a vow of chastity. In 1988 one member of the Amazonian Guards was killed whilst shielding the former Libyan President from an assassination attempt. More photos can be found here.