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Can Women Be In Combat Roles? Breaking The Gender Stereotypes

  Can Women Be In Combat Roles? Breaking The Gender Stereotypes

Assistant Editor

30 Apr, 2019

“And one day she discovered that she was fierce and strong and full of fire. And that not even she could hold herself back because her passion burned brighter than her fears.... Mark Anthony

Throughout the history of the world women have been found to have played an active role in ancient warfare. However, when it came to warfare it has always been men who have been extolled and portrayed especially in modern times as a matter for men.

If we study historical records we will find that female deities, the origins of which predate historical records are present in almost every culture across the world. These deities are often portrayed as warriors. These historical evidences, signals to a pervasive presence of women among such activities prior to a profound shift in human culture once the human race started settling down and agriculture became the main source of sustenance. 

When we talk about India the power of the Feminine has been not just revered but worshipped. Goddess worship is one of the longest standing religious traditions in Hinduism. In India a very powerful matriarchal culture existed before the Aryan migration that happened around 2500 BC. It was only after the male dominated society of the Aryans settled that the strong matriarchal Indian society went through a conflict and eventually a compromise.

The Feminine power is known as "Shakti". Shakti means "power" and it also refers to multiple ideas. It is considered as a dynamic energy that is responsible for creation, maintenance and destruction of the universe. In India it is believed nothing in the universe can happen without Shakti as it is Shakti who stimulates Shiva the passive energy in the form of consciousness, and this union creates the "Ardhanarishwar" which is a deity that is half male and half female, which signifies that the creation, maintenance and destruction of the universe is dependent on both the forces. In India this Feminine power has been personified as the gentle Uma, Or the terrifying Kali who destroys evil forces, or Durga the warrior. In India when in distress or when people pray for immediate needs, they generally address a female Goddess and not a male. And this concept is not just prevalent in India but before Christianity, the Pagans also believed in the power of the women, so did the people in China who practice Taoism strongly believe in the Yin and Yang. The Yin or the dark swirl is associated with the feminine while the white symbolizes the male. 

The reason behind this discussion is to understand when and why the role of women in warfare took a backseat. Why do we think that women are not fit for combat? When we study ancient history we find evidence of very strong women rulers and many cultures retained the significance of these women so strongly that we still speak about them and time was not able to obscure them completely. There is a long list of women who had participated in the warfare and Archeological researches have provided more details and clues regularly.

One name that immediately comes into our mind is Joan of Arc who was a natural military leader who took up swords against the English and led the French forces to victory. Though she had no formal military training but she convinced Prince Charles of Valois to let her command the French Army in the battle and made a name for herself in the pages of History.

We often hear about the power of the Japanese Samurai who are mostly portrayed as men however, some of Japan's most formidable Samurai warriors were a group of women known as the Onna-Bugeisha. They were as deadly and powerful as their male counterparts and were trained exactly as that of the male samurai and used the same self-defense and offensive maneuvers. They also used a special weapon called the “naginata” that was specially designed for women. The most famous of the Onna-Bugeisha was Tomoe Gozen. In the 12th century they say there was no warrior who could match the strength and agility of Tomoe Gozen.

Lozen is one of history's fiercest women warriors who had a very sharp mind and great fighting skills and an uncanny knack of accurately predicting enemy movements. She is often called the "Apache Joan of Arc". She was the sister of a prominent chief and member of the Chiricahua Apaches. She used her intelligence to help her people fight against the U.S. Government who were threatening to grab the lands of the indigenous people of America.

Coming down to the Indian context we have a long list of fierce women warriors who have left an indelible mark through their indomitable courage, strength and intelligence. 

The very first name that comes to mind is "Rani of Jhansi" or Rani Lakshmibai who fought vehemently against the British forces trying to take her adopted son's right to rule as a legal heir. Sword in her hand and her boy tied to her back she fought valiantly in 1857. She fought the battle of Kota-ki -serai in 1858 dressed in a man's uniform. Rani of Jhansi also had a women's brigade known as the Durga Dal led by courageous Jhalkari Bai whose husband was a soldier in the Jhansi Army. Jhalkari Bai was skilled in archery and sword play as well as horse riding. She had an uncanny resemblance to Rani of Jhansi and this she used to trick the British and help Rani of Jhansi escape. It was only after her capture that the British came to learn about her true identity.

If during those times women were capable of fighting head on with men as their opponent, in the harshest of environment, why should women not be able to make their mark in combat war? As a matter of fact now we have more advanced methods of training in warfare, specialized methods of training. Women today are maneuvering fighter jets.

Indian military has already inducted women into many facilities like medical, legal, educational, signals and engineering. However, in a transformational move with the gender barrier broken globally the Indian Army is all set to induct women into combat positions. This was announced by the Army Chief General Bipin Rawat on the 11th of July 2018. In a historical move three Indian women were inducted as fighter pilots. The Navy too is deliberating on having women onboard the ships.

So yes women can definitely be in Combat roles, only thing that we need to do is change the patriarchal mindset and not underestimate the hidden strength of women.

By: Madhuchanda Saxena