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Published On:02 February 2013
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Women in the combat frontline

By Rushdi Siddiqui

If your country is attacked by an army of women combatants, how would the Commander-in-Chief respond?

A. Send out the military which is dominated by males;
B. Enrol more females, hence, a mix of soldiers to respond;
C. Send out an all-female military response; or
D. Assume no response is necessary as the attack will not be successful.

News flash: US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the Pentagon will end the long-standing prohibition on women serving in direct combat.

What exactly is a frontline war zone?

The news flash has created a flashpoint of debate on women in combat; however, the issue is actually deeper. It is about the roles of women in society, especially during war time.
Much research and many articles have been published on the relative strength of women and the associated issues and effects of women operating in an all-male unit combat zone. Even calorific intake is said to be strictly controlled in battle zones: 3,950 calories a day for men, 2,700 for women. But perhaps there has been less focus on the exact conditions that frontline combatants live under in the gruelling war zones especially in today’s global landscape.

A former marine, Ryan Smith, wrote in the Wall Street Journal on January 23, 2013: “Most people seem to believe that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have merely involved driving out of a forward operating base, patrolling the streets, maybe getting in a quick firefight, and then returning to the forward operating base and its separate shower facilities and chow hall … I served in the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a marine infantry squad leader. We rode into war crammed in the back of amphibious assault vehicles. They are designed to hold roughly 15 marines snugly; due to maintenance issues, by the end of the invasion we had as many as 25 men stuffed into the back. Marines were forced to sit, in full gear, on each other’s laps and in contorted positions for hours on end. That was the least of our problems … Sometimes we spent over 48 hours on the move without exiting the vehicles. We were forced to urinate in empty water bottles inches from our comrades.”

Is it a sign of progress?

History has recorded many women who participated in the battlefront. There was Queen Boudica, who led the Britons against Rome; Joan of Arc of France. Women fought in the First World War and in the Second World War, British and German women served in combat roles in anti-aircraft units. They were in the hundreds of thousands and said to have shot down thousands of enemy fliers. This was then widely accepted as they were not at risk of capture. But can we guarantee this today?

It’s well acknowledged the important role women play in society. Women are deemed less susceptible to temptation (corruption), they are also seen as better leaders in organisations, better at raising children, and, often, are the glue that keeps a family together, be it in a least, less, or developed world. The adage, educate a woman you educate a community was not said for no reason.

But will increasing the number of women in the military result in a more effective and efficient military? Follow-up question: is it a sign of “progress” for a country (or society or, even, civilisation) if women are given same option responsibility as men in protecting the country from the frontline? Will it in any way increase the fortunes of a society or a country?

Two schools of thought

Although women are built differently, the first school of thought on this debate is about “separate but equal” treatment and their talking points include:

● It is about objective standards, and if a soldier passes the various tests, physical, emotional, mental, etc., then they have earned the right to represent their country on the frontlines. However, it is rare to have the same people talk about the actual frontline experience of women under sustained fire and its impact over time.

● It is an opportunity to move up (fast track) the chain of command, and with women in higher places, women issues are better represented for informed solutions, hence, advancing career opportunities. This is the same argument put forth of need to have affirmative action quotas, be it the Bumiputera favourable treatment, a minimum set aside for board positions for women, and so on. Have such arguments prevailed in having Bumiputeras gain the targeted levels of economic parity? Or have boards recruited women based on competence or quota incentives?


The second and competing school of thought includes many former/present frontline combatants, and they have aired arguments against ending the prohibition, including:

● The physical demands of carrying 22kg of body-wear may be fine during training exercise, but under duress of conflict in hostile weather may result in lagging soldiers.

● Being able to carry injured colleagues (or retrieving killed soldier), weighing more than the carrier, to safer places for treatment. This actually places her directly in harm’s way.

● Stress and “distractions” of being in a fox-hole for extended period of time with male soldiers.

● The rate of suicide among men in combat, from Iraq to Afghanistan, has increased significantly, what of single mothers returning home?

● That time of month for women and the conditions in frontline battle fields.

● Being caught by enemy and torture includes rape and sexual assaults.

● Being bought back home in body bags.

Finally, it is well known that countries, like Israel, known to be on heightened alert of conflict, have banned women in combat as result of this experience.

History of women in conflicts

In Islam, according to narrations from the various historic accounts, Muslim women are exempted but are not prohibited to fight to defend their communities.

Muslim women can participate in battle zones with the Muslim army if the latter is a strong and powerful army and if there is no fear that Muslim women would be taken prisoners. Ibn Abdel Bar, an Islamic scholar, said: “They (the women) can go with the army if the army is strong enough to take hold of the enemy’s army.”

This is the opinion of all scholars and it is an imitation of a Sunnah that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did and his companions followed.

The Prophet took his wives and some of the wives of the Muslims in several holy battles in the company of the Prophet (pbuh) as narrated in a sound hadith. But it was also narrated that the role of women was mostly limited to looking after the wounded and providing food and drink to the men. Where she is required to travel, it is narrated that she should only do so within the limits of her nature. During the Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime, Aisha (RA) participated in the early battles. During the Battle of Uhud, for example, Aishah distributed water bags to the Muslim combatants on the battlefield.

Amazon’s ancient warriors?

The Amazon warriors were said to be a group of warrior women who belonged to an all-female culture and society in Greek mythology. They were reputed for their fearsome battle and fighting skills. These women are said to be as strong as any man, and tall and powerful. The Amazon warriors’ exact location is unknown, although recent evidence has found some Amazon remains are located in Cumbria, England. Most sources do concur that the Amazonians were around in Roman times from around 27 BC to 1400 AD. Whether the Amazon women warriors were a myth or a reality, what was prevalent in their tradition and said existence is that they were warriors who lived in all-female communities.

My daughter

In the final analysis, we ask ourselves if we will let our daughters, sisters, wives draft for frontline battle.

Would I encourage my daughter to become a combatant in the frontlines? I wonder if the defence secretary’s boss, President Barak Obama, would also encourage his two daughters to participate in direct combat. Or, put differently, if they wanted to serve their country as frontliners, would the president or the first lady discourage them?

There are cases recorded even in the US military where women in frontline combat have been kidnapped by enemy soldiers and sexually assaulted. This, despite the training they received in how to avoid these things. When women take on frontline combat roles, their male colleagues may put themselves in harm’s way to protect the honour of their female colleagues in a way they never would for fellow male officers.

Obviously, one is patriotic to the country that has given them life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. But surely there other ways to demonstrate patriotism. Must we place women in the most dangerous lines of fire to demonstrate this in the name of equality? Can there not be better roles for women in light of their genetic predispositions and special talents?

My views cannot be better represented than by a 2007 article which John Piper wrote in World magazine:

“If I were the last man on the planet to think so, I would want the honour of saying no woman should go before me into combat to defend my country. A man who endorses women in combat is not pro-woman; he’s a wimp. He should be ashamed. For most of history, in most cultures, he would have been utterly scorned as a coward to promote such an idea. Part of the meaning of manhood as God created us is the sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of our women.”

How would you react to the following comment?

“It ain’t combat until the lead is coming at you!”

(Courtesy: The Malaysia Insider)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on February 02, 2013. Filed under , , , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

By Indian Muslim Observer on February 02, 2013. Filed under , , , , , , , . Follow any responses to the RSS 2.0. Leave a response

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