'Women and Gender Perspectives in the Military' Book Launch at Georgetown University

November 12, 2019

On November 8, the Georgetown Institute of Women, Peace, and Security (GIWPS) celebrated the release of the new book ‘Women and Gender Perspectives in the Military’ with a talk by the book’s editors, Dr. Robert Egnell and Dr. Mayesha Alam, moderated by GIWPS Director Ambassador Melanne Verveer.

The book covers the comparative experiences of eight countries as they incorporate the WPS Agenda and gender perspectives into their security forces. Egnell and Alam discussed the difficulty of creating cultural change in masculinized spaces, a problem that extends beyond merely increasing the number of women in the military (although no military in the world is anywhere near gender parity). Egnell noted that while some countries such as Sweden had effectively created a culture that was critical of militarized masculinities and open to the inclusion of gender-sensitive approaches, women were still dramatically underrepresented and seemingly uninterested in joining the security forces. In contrast, other countries such as the United States had effectively increased women’s participation in the military but remained deeply masculinized, steeped in a culture that was hostile to gendered analysis.

Alam noted that one of the issues underpinning this incoherency between culture and participation was the issue of retention. Creating opportunities for women in security without creating a culture in which they felt valued makes it difficult for participation and cultural change to occur simultaneously. Furthermore, given the hierarchical nature of militaries, senior officials must create space for cultural change; increasing women’s participation without looking at how and where women are promoted will not sufficiently change military cultures, nor will putting the onus of incorporating gender perspectives exclusively on women.

Ultimately, Alam and Egnell found that even when there was resistance to cultural change, militaries were likely to respond to the instrumentalist argument that incorporating gender approaches leads to better effective military responses. During the question period at the end of the talk, many senior military leaders in the United States armed forces shared their experiences as women in the military. They told how their contributions and suggestions had increased mission effectiveness, such as, in Afghanistan, by flying helicopters at night along edges of the city rather than over residential areas, they saw reduced numbers of terrorist attacks.

The event raised many issues that warrant further consideration by militaries attempting to include gender perspectives in their operations. How do they achieve cultural change beyond just increasing women’s participation, and how can militaries internalize gender perspectives beyond seeing them merely as instrumental to better combat power?

Dr. Mayesha Alam
Dr. Robert Egnell

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