Academic journal article Connections : The Quarterly Journal

The Bundeswehr and Female Soldiers: The Integration of Women into the Armed Forces (2000-2015)

Academic journal article Connections : The Quarterly Journal

The Bundeswehr and Female Soldiers: The Integration of Women into the Armed Forces (2000-2015)

Article excerpt


The turn of the new millennium represented a caesura for the Bundeswehr (German armed forces), because the composition of its personnel was to change quite dramatically following a decision by the European Court of Justice in January 2000, which demanded considerably more employment opportunities for women in the military as soldiers rather than solely in medical services as practiced before. In the years that followed, the number of female soldiers in the Bundeswehr increased from about 2% to about 10% by spring 2015.

The present article firstly outlines the history of women's participation in the German armed forces up through today. Secondly, it summarizes the findings of the various empirical studies that the in-house research institute of the German Ministry of Defense (formerly the Bundeswehr Institute of Social Research (Sozialwissenschaftliches Institut der Bundeswehr, SOWI)) and the Center of Military History and Social Sciences of the Bundeswehr (Zentrum der Bundeswehr für Militärgeschichte und Sozialwissenschaften, ZMSBw) have undertaken in this context. Lastly, these empirical findings are put into a theoretical context.

Prologue: The Bundeswehr Meets Tanja Kreil

Women have long been involved in German war efforts. During World War I, women worked in the German armaments industries and were recruited for medical, secretarial, administrative, and combat support functions. Towards the end of the war, 500 of them were trained for service in the field of communication. In World War II, the inclusion of women in the war went even further, despite the pre-modern gender role views of the National Socialists. A very substantial number of women, about 450,000, were recruited for the Wehrmacht Assistance Corps ( Wehrmachthelferinnenkorps), and tens of thousands were even assigned combat functions. However, this was not officially acknowledged, as their service was interpreted as merely assistance.* 1

The recognition of women as official and regular soldiers was delayed until the Bundeswehr came into existence. The creation of the German armed forces, to be sure, was by no means something "natural" in the decade following the Second World War. In the end, Cold War turbulence in international relations in the late 1940s and early 1950s persuaded the Western powers to view the rearmament of West Germany in a different light. As a result, in the mid-1950s, the Bundeswehr was established.

At that time, few considered female soldiers to be an issue. Yet the Bundeswehr soon employed thousands of women as civilian employees in the Federal Armed Forces Administration in functions that in many of the world's other militaries would be performed by people in uniform. It took another decade until the issue of women as regular soldiers began to be discussed in society and politics due to wide ranging democratization processes and significant socio-cultural and politico-cultural changes. Starting with the so-called student movement, various parts of German society turned into important social movements that called for political and societal participation. Among them were various women's groups that criticized the patriarchally structured German society and sought emancipation and gender equality, as laid out in various UN documents. Accordingly, there were also demands for equal access and participation to professions that hitherto had been male-exclusive domains, and very soon the male-dominated soldierly profession and the Bundeswehr faced pressure from society that soon translated into the political sphere, putting the issue of women in the military on the agenda.2

In late 1973, the German government, at that time a coalition of the Social-Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the Liberal Party (FDP), responded to these societal concerns by establishing the enquête commission, Women and Society. One result of this was Minister of Defense Georg Leber (SPD) opening the Bundeswehr to women. …

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