November 24, 2023
Compared to dogs or children, women struggle in the Ukrainian army
June 18, 2022. Ukrainian female soldier during a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Currently, more than 60,000 women serve in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and about 5,000 are on the frontline. These women are a vital part of Ukraine’s future victory. However, throughout the last year of the invasion, they have realised the struggles of being a woman in a predominantly male environment.
Female soldiers are being treated as an object of entertainment rather than living, breathing, and equally capable human beings.
‘GenderInDetail’, a Ukrainian anti-discrimination campaign, recently shed light on a YouTube video, in which soldiers from the Ukrainian 3rd Assault Brigade make openly sexist and misogynistic comments. The soldiers are identified by their call signs – ‘Istok’, ‘Gnom’, and ‘Hmuryi’ – except for a Ukrainian comedian Victor Rozovyi, who joined the brigade at the start of the full-scale invasion.
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During the live show, a woman in the audience asked the soldiers: “How do you think women can help on the frontlines?” Instead of an answer, she received an “I’d better stay quiet” comment from Victor Rozovyi and a loud wave of laughter from the other three men.
One of them tried to make the situation ‘better’ by saying: “The women can be in the administrative, record keeping, storage organising roles.” Another reacted to this with a hysterical laugh.
“But please, I have one thing to ask of women who want to join the forces: please do not imagine yourselves snipers or marksmen. Those positions require a lot of work,” said ‘Istok’.
The absurdity continued when a woman stood up and told the men and the crowd that as a combat medic with four years of experience, she found it to be a complete lie that women cannot be useful in the army.
“We do not want to disrespect women in the army, I think we should clap to the women serving right now,” ‘Istok’ answered.
“And children who are serving. And dogs who are serving,” added Victor Rozovy.
But one might say that these are just comments, a common generalisation that goes around, a degrading comparison putting women in the same category as children and dogs, as those who need to be taken care of. But this mentality has lasting repercussions.
Unfortunately, this mentality translates into the ongoing problem of sexual harassment towards women in the military.
Serving in one of the brigades in Donetsk, aerial scout Lesya Ganzha told DW: “Young women defend themselves in their own way. Usually, they find themselves a protector.”
“One young woman told me she had been harassed. The commander made overtures to her on her very first day, which she rejected. That was the end of the matter. But I know that in another company, things were more serious, and a young woman had to transfer to a different company.”
Discrimination not only has many faces but also manifests in a variety of ways.
Except for harassment, hurtful puns and comments, women in the army face restrictions on their basic needs – lack of comfortable uniforms, fitting bodily armours, and support for their sanitary needs, all of these things are not being prioritised.
For quite a long time, women were forced to either wear uniforms designed for men or find another way to get a more fitting one by themselves. Only a year and a half after the start of the full-scale invasion, the properly designed uniform for women was submitted to the registry.
The Guardian reported how contraception is unavailable at the frontline as well as necessary urinary devices to avoid infection in severe environments. Army doctors are not trained in gynaecology, which means that the basic medical needs of women cannot be answered.
Additionally, after each service round, a woman in the military has to undergo a medical examination before enlisting again – it is presumed that the purpose is to ensure that the soldier is not pregnant and, therefore, entitled to maternity leave.
The most common argument from those against the presence of women in the armed forces underlines that they are, on average, physically weaker. However, modern warfare is largely based on technology, which levels the field between genders.
As a result of tradition, it is inarguable that there are more men than women in armed forces around the world. But Ukraine, in the face of recruitment shortages and the prolonged fight against the Russian invasion, should be particularly incentivised to solve its own discrimination to attain more female soldiers.
They should put an end to a reality in which being a woman in the army is scary and means being constantly uncomfortable, disrespected, harassed, and having your basic needs ignored while nothing is being actively done to solve them.
How do we expect women to tolerate such environments and ‘bear with it’ to defend their country? And when will we realise that being respectful and attentive towards women and their needs can benefit everyone?