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In the last few weeks a couple of reports have been issued regarding the integration of women into the Armed Forces, one in Germany and one in Norway. They paint quite a different picture of the latest trends – Germany has problems, particularly with Sexual Harassment, Scandinavia believes it has a solution – Cohabitation.
The German report comes from the Army’s Centre for Military History and Social Science (Zentrum für Militärgeschichte und Sozialwissenschaften der Bundeswehr – ZMSBw Author: Gerhard Kümmel). It tested the opinions of male and female soldiers with regard to sexual integration and highlighted increasing dissatisfaction of the male soldiers with the position of the women among their ranks. Currently the German defence forces comprise approximately 10% women (18,500) and there is a target to increase this to 15%.
However to achieve a healthy integration the negative perception of their male colleagues must be addressed. In the study 52% of the German male soldiers were of the opinion that their females colleagues were not up to the physical requirements demanded by their role in the army. This had increased from a survey carried out in 2005 when only 44% of the men felt this way.
The trust that the men have in their female colleagues had also reduced dramatically with nearly half the male soldiers (48%) being of the opinion that more effort was needed to make sexual integration work (this compared with 22% holding the same view in 2005).
There was also dissatisfaction among the women soldiers particularly with regard to the need to be constantly be on their guard in relation to sexual harassment. In the study 55% of the women reported that they had been sexually harassed. 47% had been verbally harassed and 25% had been exposed to pornographic material. 24% claimed that they had had to endure physical contact of a sexual nature with 3% having been the victims of sexual abuse.
Clearly much still needs to be done in Germany to make sexual integration work in the army – perhaps they can learn from the research coming out of Norway.
The Scandinavian Approach – Men and Women Sleeping Together
The Scandinavian study, commissioned by the Norwegian Army was carried out by Sociologists Ulla-Britt Lilleaas and Dag Ellingsen (Oslo University). They used two study groups, one taken from the Army in the north of the country and one from the south and admit they were rather surprised by the results. In the north the women soldiers were allowed to sleep in the same rooms as their male colleagues. This led to a more relaxed atmosphere and less sexual harassment. The women simply became ‘room pals’ and the fact that they were sexually different stopped being an issue or a ‘provocation’ for their male colleagues.
Ulla-Britt Lilleaas had not expected that the unisex rooms would be so well accepted by the women. The study comprised of multiple interviews with 10 female and 10 male soldiers. In Norway most of the women soldiers join the army straight after school at 19 years of age. This is the same age at which the men in Norway have to begin their compulsory military service. As in Germany the females make up about 10% of the force’s personnel.
The conclusion of the study was quite simple: where the two sexes slept in the same rooms the woman were more accepted and the team spirit was stronger. Although many units have now introduced unisex rooms the woman may, if they wish, choose to be in a separate ‘female’ room. However none of them elect to do this – the women feel this would make them become outsiders.
In the unisex rooms sexually based stereotypes disappear or are much less apparent. In this regard the uniforms help a lot – “there are no sexes in the Norwegen Army – everything is simply green“. This may in part explain why despite sleeping in close proximity in neighbouring beds the researchers did not come across any examples of sexual contact. Between soldiers sex is forbidden. If you break the rules you are relocated.
Interestingly the behaviour of the men has altered considerably as a result of sleeping together with women soldiers. The chaps now pay a lot more attention to getting regular showers (the study did not detail whether these were with cold or warm water) and have started cleaning themselves more thoroughly. In the one case of sexual harassment identified in the Northern group the men immediately supported their female colleague.
The situation in the unit in the south of Norway which continued to segregate the sexes at bed-time was quite different. The researchers found vulgar sexist terminology being used, female soldiers were more often sick and two wanted to quit their jobs. In their female only rooms they were separated from the rest of the unit. They were more ‘bitchy‘ (lästerten) and argued more. During one cross country run round the lake a female recruit allowed herself to be carried round because she couldn’t cope. Another published photos of herself on Facebook wearing just a bathing costume and her military helmet. Such behaviour damaged the reputation of all the women in the unit.
The researchers believe that unisex rooms will become the norm in the Norwegian army, very much as they already are in neighbouring Sweden. Although Sweden has now ended compulsory military service Norway wants to extend it in 2016 to also include women. Norway is also leading the way in other ways with regard to sexual equality in the military – their male soldiers are now allowed to have long hair (yet another reason for spending more time in the showers!).
Kind acknowledgements to the Süddeutsche Zeitung for providing some of the information used above in their German reports on 24th March and 24th January 2014 (let me know if you would like the links).
If you found this article about sexual equality and the discussion of different approaches to men and women sleeping together in the German and Scandinavian Armies interesting you may like to read some of my other reports. The contents page can be found using the link by clicking here.
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