Academic journal article Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military

"The Weakest Link": Women in Two Dutch Peacekeeping Units. (Articles)

Academic journal article Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military

"The Weakest Link": Women in Two Dutch Peacekeeping Units. (Articles)

Article excerpt

abstract

The aim of this article is to examine the experience of the Dutch female peacekeepers that serve in Bosnia and Kosovo and to analyze the ways in which they are envisaged and treated by their male peers and how they view themselves. By focusing on women I would mainly like to demonstrate two mechanisms: 1. The exclusion of the women by men; 2. The lack of social support among the women themselves. The first mechanism, as we shall see later, is a result of macho perceptions and fear, while the second is more an outcome of women's personal strategy. I argue not only that their male peers do not completely accept the women, but also that women have adopted men's' ways of thinking, and in doing so they become their "greatest enemy".

"[The military is a] reflection of the civil society, everything that you see now: drugs, women and gays and I don't know what else" (an infantry male officer).

"Jealousy is an issue among women. Women often feel [insecure.sup.i] about themselves and personal relationship can also interfere. They can quarrel with each other. Oh no! They are the weakest link! (An infantry male NCO).

"More women, more arguments." (A female NCO).

Introduction

The aim of this article is to examine the experience of the Dutch female peacekeepers that serve in Bosnia and Kosovo and to analyze the ways in which they are envisaged and treated by their male peers and how they view themselves. By focusing on women I would mainly like to demonstrate two mechanisms: 1. The exclusion of the women by men; 2. The lack of social support among the women themselves. The first mechanism, as we shall see later, is a result of macho perceptions and fear, while the second is more an outcome of women's personal strategy. I argue not only that their male peers do not completely accept the women, but also that women have adopted men's' ways of thinking, and in doing so they become their "greatest enemy".

I chose to focus on women in peacekeeping missions due to the growing importance of peacekeeping in global military policies. Today, peace missions and humanitarian missions form the greater part of the Dutch military activities. Examining the peripheral position of women in such tasks can shed light on gender dynamics that are neither the outcome of a combat-oriented military nor of a military-oriented society. Rather, they reflect the centrality of masculinity as a whole.

I also compare between women who serve in an artillery battery and women who serve in an infantry company. These units were different in their culture and attitude toward women and masculinity. Infantry soldiers had a strong masculine image and many of them rejected not only the idea of women's service in their unit, but also in the military altogether. Artillery soldiers had a less macho image and some of them even agreed with the service of women in their unit. Furthermore, in contrast with the infantry soldiers, the artillerists already had a successful experience with one female combat soldier in their unit.

For a year, from the fall of 1999 to the summer of 2000 I conducted anthropological fieldwork amongst two Dutch peacekeeping units: artillery and infantry companies. With special permission from the Dutch military, I accompanied the soldiers from their training in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands to deployment in Kosovo (KFOR2) and Bosnia (SFOR8). During this time, I had full access to the soldiers and I participated in their training and deployment preparation. I visited the units in Bosnia and Kosovo, where I was free to join military activities, for example patrols and guard missions, and to interview the soldiers. The interviews were conducted in Dutch.

By using methods of participant observation together with interviewing, I would like to draw a picture of the women who serve there. The number of women in these units was very small: only three women served in the artillery unit, one of them as artillery combat soldier, and the two others as a driver and an administrative worker. …

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