Coping with Noncombatant Women in the Battlespace: Incorporating United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 into the Operational Environment

By Lowery, Vince | Military Review, May-June 2017 | Go to article overview

Coping with Noncombatant Women in the Battlespace: Incorporating United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 into the Operational Environment


Lowery, Vince, Military Review


When soldiers prepare to deploy to a conflict zone, it is logical for them to learn as much as possible about the area in which they will be operating. The enemy already has the home-field advantage; it is only appropriate to mitigate that advantage by learning as much as one can about the land and the people who live there. Additionally, it is important to learn more about the growing power of nonstate groups, the mounting importance of multinational organizations, and the shifting cast of allies and partner nations that may become involved in operations for their own purposes, and how each adds complexity to, and affects, operational environments.

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To our Army's disadvantage, it must remain adaptable to fight across the geographical spectrum, which means it is compelled to train generically when there is no known specific threat or target. Therefore, there will be a shortage of time to train on specific geographical areas and focus on familiarizing the force with specific cultures as unexpected contingencies arise. However, even in the face of so many unknowns, experience has shown that there are constants that can be expected to emerge as factors during most foreseeable operations. These can be anticipated and our forces should prepare to deal with them. Among these are constants that were not fully recognized until comparatively recently.

Among such previously underappreciated constants is the influence noncombatant women living in the operational area have on the success or failure of operations. Experience has shown that knowing what a host-nation's population (young or old, majority or minority, male or female) really wants for their own state or country is key to gaining an understanding of a society. When factors of ethnicity, race, or gender are considered and included during the planning process, the outcome of the mission can be greatly affected. (1) With the above in context, over the last seventeen years of continuous U.S. involvement in both conflict as well as preconflict stabilization missions, a growing body of knowledge gleaned from both practical experience as well as organized research is revealing that the final success of stability operations is largely dependent on the ultimate status of women in the battlespace. It appears that the better women are cared for during stability operations, and the more they are included in the governing institutions of a society in the aftermath of conflict, the more likely the success of stabilization. (2) In contrast, the less the welfare and concerns of women are incorporated into planned stability actions, the less probability of success.

Knowledge regarding the dynamics such factors ultimately play in operational planning can assist in the efforts by U.S. forces to prevent societies from becoming failed states and can enhance the ability of those societies to transition into prosperous nations that can be governed and can protect themselves against new threats.

Therefore, a major consideration during operational planning is mitigating the lack of attention paid to vulnerable populations such as women and children, who typically make up over half of a society's population. Historically, militaries have neglected to include factors related to vulnerable populations during the planning, execution, and assessment of operations. Research by the United Nations (UN) has shown that most militaries tend to think these issues are not to be discussed until after the fighting has ceased. (3) However, critical analysis of past stabilizations appears to highlight that this line of thought is not logical for future conflict prevention or operational mission success.

Therefore, in stark contrast to previous planning methodology, the considerable effect vulnerable populations, of which women make up a large part, can have on the fight should be planned for and monitored during the entire campaign. …

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