The challenges faced by women serving in the military can also be described as the stresses of military deployment faced by women.
The stresses of deployment affect both sexes, but some are either mildly or markedly different for women. These include certain female health and gynecological issues, nursing, and pregnancy. Separation from small children, isolation, the possibility of sexual assault, and risks of combat or being taken hostage are concerns for both genders.
All of these issues should be addressed before and during deployment to ensure optimal individual and unit functioning and improve retention.
The emphasis in this article is women. Some state that it is counter productive to focus on potential difficulties of women in the field, because it could lead to the belief that women should not be in the military. They emphasize the exceptionally good performance of female service members. However, it is my belief that identification of potential problems leads to prevention.
Some recommendations are made at the end of this article. However, some problems do not have simple solutions, but an open discussion of them may lead that way.
Below are a few challenges faced by women serving In the military;
1- Personal Hygiene
Newt Gingrich received criticism for his quote, “If combat means living in a ditch, females have biological problems staying in a ditch for thirty days because they get Infections.? This statement does contain a kernel of truth, however, about the realities of field conditions. The following remarks may sound graphic or tasteless, but they are areas of concern for deployed women and thus for the mission.
Bathrooms, or lack thereof, are always an issue. Unlike on a camping trip, one cannot merely “pee in the woods.” There is very little privacy or space between tents or buildings. Relieving oneself other than in latrines in the camp area is discouraged to avoid disease and other unpleasant surprises. Men often urinate outside covertly, but this is more difficult for women. Thus, women may avoid drinking fluids.
2- Gynecological Issues
Tampons and sanitary napkins may be scarce in an immature theater. Women serving In the military should be warned before deployment to bring an adequate supply in a waterproof bag. Even if there is a military store set up, supplies can be limited or nonexistent.
Each service has its own regulations on pregnancy, but pregnancy policies with regard to deployment are relatively consistent. If a woman is pregnant, she is not deployed to an austere environment. If she is found to be pregnant on a deployment, she is returned home.
Pregnancy on deployment may cause morale issues.
4- Separation from Family
The military have a dilemma. Deploying the primary caretaker of small children is an immense stress on the families, and mothers are still usually the primary caretakers. Yet, women cannot be exempted from deployment simply because they have children. This would not be fair to men, nor would it support the current mission requirements of the armed forces.
5- Isolation, Sexual Harassment, and Assaults
Smaller units may have only one or two females. Consequent feelings of isolation and beingin a “glass bowl” can be difficult. The lopsided ratio may also lead to harassment or sexual tensions. There may also be issues of safety, especially if males and females are separated.
6- Risk to Life, Limb, and Honor
Far more is made of the risks of combat by the press than seems to bother most military service members. Men and women take the danger in stride.The risk to life and limb is less of an issue than the inability to leave a post or camp because of that threat; thus, boredom is the irritant.
Both sexes have to carry a firearm when deployed. All service members have had some training in handling and firing weapons. However, for many troops in combat support jobs, where the bulk of the women are, this training has been minimal.
There is the risk of capture. Obviously, there are also risks of being shot, gassed, tortured, or blown up, or of developing malaria or dengue fever. These risks do not differentiate by gender.
Click this link to read a CNN report that details extra problems women face in military careers.
This discussion has progressed from the mundane issues of keeping clean to the dramatic issues of being shot or captured.
For women and men, it is the petty annoyances of daily life in the field that cause the most immediate discomfort, but separation from small children causes the most anguish.
The military should work hard to obviate the issues that most affect woman’s health in the field through an emphasis on hygiene, pregnancy screening, earlier Pap testing, better information given to the troops, increased availability of good medical care, and increased research into women’s health on deployments.
For both sexes, improvements can be made in confidentiality of healthcare, increased availability of birth control, better field hygiene (bathrooms, handwashing stations, showers), and increased availability of e-mail and video teleconferencing.
Women serving in the military do a wonderful job when deployed by focusing on the mission. Discreet attention paid to certain of their needs will contribute to further mission success. As more women reach the senior ranks, there should be more mentors available for advice and guidance. Given the current operational tempo, there is little that can be done about the numerous extended separations from home.
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All photos In this articles are for illustrative purposes only.