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Monday, April 23, 2007

Women and War

History is a witness to countless number of wars: - civil, religious, revolutionary, freedom struggles, and even world wars. These wars brought about radical and historic changes in the lives and lifestyle of the women trapped in them, forcing them to come out of their homes in order to earn money and bring food to the table, as the men were called out to the battlefield to fight for their country. History raves about the heroics of these men in war- however, few instances are mentioned in which female valor was displayed.


In India, there is a saying that “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”. Hindu mythology is full of examples of women who played important roles in both family affairs as well as the affairs of the state or country. Rani Lakshmi Bai was perhaps the most courageous woman of the 19th century. She actively fought against the British, in 1858, after her husband’s death, resisting the takeover of her homeland.
During the wars that were raging in other parts of the world, civil as well as world wars, women were actively participating in one way or another. They displayed great strength of character and resilience: - enduring pain and suffering, caring for the injured people, taking up jobs in fields that were male dominated, looking after their families and children and even taking up arms to fight the enemy. Their contributions have proved to be highly significant in every conflict.
Some of the best examples of courage and determination shown by women are perhaps evident in the World Wars 1 and II. During these wars women were inducted in various “non combat” missions, which often proved to be extremely dangerous. In May 1941, the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps was officially established. Through their heroic sacrifice and dedication, the fighting men of the United States Armed Forces were assured of the support that was essential to win a war.
In September 1942, the Army Air Force (AAF) created the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS). Their main task involved ferrying and towing of planes from the factories and AAF installations during the war. Over 1000 women completed flight training and as the numbers increased, the value of their contribution began to be recognized, and the AAF took steps to militarize them. Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) was the new name for this unit. These pilots served grueling, often dangerous tours of duty, and suffered injuries - some were killed in the course of duty. In 1977, the WASP finally achieved military active duty status for their service.
Women demonstrated amazing work and courage as combat nurses. In 1901, the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) was established, and about 43% of all nurses joined in the efforts of the ANC during World War II. Over 200 female nurses were killed during the war and more than 1,600 medals were handed out for bravery and courage. This also included the ‘Purple Heart’, presented to those who were wounded in their efforts to serve the country.
There are almost two million women war veterans. Thirty- three thousand women served in World War I and almost five hundred thousand took part in World War II. The theater deployed seven thousand women during Vietnam War and during the operation Desert Storm, of the total U.S. forces deployed; seven percent were women (over forty thousand).


Another facet to war, proving beneficial to women, is that it brought on many new opportunities for women and soon became a doorway through which they gained freedom.
Women were given employment in various fields of work such as journalism, photography, spying, mechanics, factory work, transport, farming, mail delivery, garbage collection and as builders. These women have set a trend for the future generations.
For the first time, women were free to create their own lives and became mobile. This also brought with it an increase in equality for men and women.
They wore overalls, uniforms, slacks, and bandanas to cover their hair. Though the clothes were unfeminine, the women found them comfortable, and continued to wear them in public.
It was not an easy task though, as the women working in factories or places that were male dominated struggled with new horizons, social discrimination, gender harassment, and physical pain from long hours and poor work conditions.


Any war or conflict brings along with it untold horrors, atrocities, miseries, and sufferings of the most unimaginable types affecting innocent men, women, children and old people. Its traumatic effect lasts for a lifetime and generations thereafter suffer its consequences. The most recent example of such suffering is, perhaps, of the women in Afghanistan and Indian women in Kashmir.
After two decades of war, in 1992, Afghanistan slid into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. These fundamentalists look upon women as sub-humans, fit only for household slavery and as a means of procreation. When the Taliban came to power, their atrocities made the lives of the women even more hellish. They made long lists of rules regarding the code of conduct of women in public and in their own homes.

Under these new rules women were totally deprived of the right to education, to work, to travel alone, to have any kind of recreation, to the most basic rights of being human - they had to cover themselves fully and no bright clothing was allowed, they could not wear high heel shoes, nor laugh aloud. Women did not have the right to health, that is, they could not go to a male doctor for treatment, and of course, no woman could practice as a doctor, and they had no right to family planning.
Other instances of atrocities include the beating of women on the slightest pretext and publicly stoning them for committing adultery. There are also sexual crimes, rapes, tortures, and murders committed.
Kashmir, during the never-ending conflict between India and Pakistan, has witnessed countless horrors and sufferings for the women in that region. The Lashkar-e-Jabar (a militant group) declared that all Muslim women should wear the 'burqa' to differentiate them from the Hindus and Sikhs, who should wear a 'bindi' on their forehead. The women who did not comply had acid thrown on their faces. The government imposed constant curfews forcing the people to remain inside their houses after sunset. Many innocent lives are still lost due to stray bullets and land mines in the border areas. Thousands of women are displaced from their homes, widowed, separated from loved ones, and become victims of violence and injury due to the constant conflicts in the region.
Despite all the hardships and sufferings that women face, it is surprising that their voices are the first ones to be heard calling for justice and restraint, and opposing the use of military force against more innocent and defenseless victims. Women are commenting on the need for immediate and long-term solutions in an unequal world capable of producing such violent acts of rage. The women who changed our lives, for the better, through their heroic acts of courage, determination and many sacrifices- deserve our salutations

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