The Question of Women’s Roles in Conflict

Female Afghan National Police officers, courtesy NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/flickr

This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 15 February 2016.

The U.S. Department of Defense has paid scant attention to the roles local women play in conflicts, either as aggressors, crucial fighting support, or powerful peace builders – to the detriment of global security.

Now that the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has opened all military occupations to women in order to take advantage of the skills and perspectives they have to offer, perhaps this move will help it to overcome a bias that continues to handicap its operations: its lack of recognition of the critical contributions of local women in conflict areas. To date, multiple opportunities to defeat insurgents, stabilize communities and promote peace in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and many other countries have been squandered because of the military’s almost exclusive focus on the male half of populations.

As a result of this persistent exclusion in zones of conflict, commanders are effectively precluding themselves from taking advantage of all opportunities to defeat armed groups, mitigate the influence of malign forces, and facilitate peace and stability. Paradoxically, this obliviousness also directly contradicts military leaders’ contemporary emphasis on obtaining in-depth “situational awareness” in order to effectively deal with conflict.

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