The role of women in war has existed long before discourse on the topic came into being. This blog post will focus on the similarities of female combatants reintegrating during the DDR process, and female United States veterans reintegrating back into civilian life after discharge. Having spent four years researching the topic of female veterans and how the lack of gender specific services causes higher homelessness rates, it was interesting to learn about the struggles of reintegrating female combatants. There are many issues that arise in providing services to women who are actively and formerly involved in combat. Consideration needs to be taken, not only in the immediate needs of female fighters, but also the psychological.
Women’s wartime experiences differ from that of men. While women might be actively involved in combat, more goes into the female fighter narrative. Women tend to also play major supportive roles to male fighters. This hold true for US female military as they were not officially able to participate in combat until recently. However, unofficial combat roles did exist. Support roles during war have shown, in some instances, to be more psychologically damaging than combat experiences. Support roles can range from cooking, organization, and administrative work to clean up after combat (removing bodies). These roles are overlooked and underestimated in their importance and psychological tole. Women also have to deal with the added burden of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment includes verbal comments, gestures, unwanted physical contact, and rape. Even if avenues existed to report sexual harassment, it has been shown that the stigma behind wartime sexual harassment prevents women from doing so. All of these additional challenges during wartime cause women to have a more difficult time reintegrating back into society afterwards.
The difference in psychological needs of women coupled with the unique experiences of war, make it more difficult for women to reintegrate successfully. Women generally have significantly different psychological requirements than men, meaning that female centered services need to be provided if one wants to see successful reintegration. More female centered and female run psychological services need to be employed to address this need. This becomes even more important when women are facing PTSD and sexual assault trauma. Men and women cope differently, so the male centered services offered through DDR and Veterans Affairs are not adequate. Another important aspect not widely considered for female fighters is their responsibility as a parental caregiver, and experiences of their home lives. It has been noted that women go into conflict as a way of escaping non-ideal home lives, so when the women return there is a lack of stability leading to more issues. This is exacerbated when the women are the primary caregiver to children. Women are then not only responsible for themselves but also their children’s lives. The additional pressure of children makes it more difficult psychologically and puts women under more stress. Women fighters need to be consulted when crafting reintegration services to ensure they are what is needed.
Designing services for female fighters is something that has not been perfected even in developed countries such as the United States. Female veterans are 3 times more likely to be homeless than their female civilian counterparts. This mean that DDR programs for female combatants needs to be done in a way that truly meets the needs of the population. Using techniques available to men or even models that have worked for women in other countries will not suffice. Female fighter reintegration is a context driven initiative and needs to be treated as so.