SA leading way on women in military in Africa: ISS


The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) says South Africa is a leader in Africa on the inclusion of women in its armed forces.

The ISS` Cheryl Hendricks and Marelie Maritz say the SA Department of Defence has gone a long way to include women since 1994.

“Currently 21% of the defence force is made up of women, they write in the ISS Today.

“They are still primarily in the junior ranks and in the support services. The highest-ranking woman in the South African Defence Force is a major general. There are, however, concerted efforts made to increase the number of women at the higher ranks: the number of brigadiers general has now increased to twenty seven providing a pool from which to draw on for the upper levels,” they say.

Hendricks and Maritz add that the representation of women in decision-making structures, “a key priority area long identified by women for furthering gender equality, is taken seriously”.

In this regard, they say the representation of women in Parliament increase from 33% to 45% after the national democratic election of April 2009. “South Africa now ranks third in the world in terms of countries with the highest number of women in parliament.

“There are five, out of a total of nine, women premiers as head of provincial governments. South Africa has 14 cabinet Ministers and 12 Deputy Ministers who are women and they are in charge of some of the most powerful Ministries, including, International Relations and Co-operation, Home Affairs, Mining, and Defence and Veteran Affairs.”

The duo note there “have been very few women Ministers of Defence worldwide. Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, the new Minister of Defence and Veteran Affairs, joins 60 other previous women who acted in this capacity since 1960.

“In Africa, there have only been six other women at the helm of the Defence Sector, namely, Joyce Mujuru in Zimbabwe, Madior Boye in Senegal, Cecile Manorohanta in Madagascar, Cristina Fontes Lima in Cape Verde, Filomena Mascarenhas Tipote in Guinea Bissau, and Elsa Maria Neto D`Alva Texeira de Barros Pinto in São Tomé and Príncìpe.

“The defence sector, in general, has been slow in realising the goals of gender mainstreaming. The military has always been regarded as a place of male dominance and indeed one in which the very constructions of masculinity are reproduced.

“It is therefore no surprise that women`s advancement to the top echelons of this sector has been rather limited and that many stereotypes abound to justify this. This includes, for example, that the military is ‘unique`, women do not have the physical strength and endurance needed to perform the duties associated with combat, and that they cannot be away from their families for extended periods of time,” they say.

“Women in turn challenged these arguments. They have asserted their human right not to be excluded from the employment, educational and career opportunities afforded by the military. They have also outlined the importance of their presence in this sector. The inclusion of women in the military creates a more representative military; it increases the ability of the defence force to respond to the differing needs of the society and it improves the operational effectiveness, as there is a larger pool of human resources from which to draw on.

“There have also been countless examples of how women peacekeepers are able to increase the effectiveness of peace-missions. It is now well documented that women in conflict zones, for example, see women peacekeepers as more approachable than their male counterparts to discuss issues related to sexual violence.

“In addition, UN Security Council Resolution 1325 speaks directly to the need for more women to be part of peacekeeping missions. We have, therefore, long passed the need to debate the merits of inclusion and we should now be concentrating on how to make the environment more conducive to the well being of women, for there does appear to be a high drop out rate of women who enter this sector.

“Moreover, given the changed conflict environment in which intra-state challenges pose more threats to the state than the possibility for inter-state conflict, we need to be centring our discussions on whose security matters most. How should that security be provided, and by whom? These are the basic questions that would underpin a human security approach.”