8M: Army Women in Ukraine Also Suffer From Sexism

In the face of the Russian invasion, women in Ukraine are at the center of the war. Not only are they counted as victims, but they are also part of the war and of machismo .

More than a week has passed since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. Around the world we have seen how Ukrainians in Kiev, the capital, and other cities in the country, have had to take their belongings and, in the best of cases, flee the country or take refuge in the underground while the forces Russians advance. We have also seen the resistance on the part of the Ukrainian people, especially its women, since many of them have made the decision to protect their country.
The martial law of Volodimir Zelenski, Ukrainian president, ordered the conscription of men for military service, so that all men between 18 and 60 years old are prohibited from leaving the country. And, despite the fact that it is not mandatory, many women have armed themselves and are preparing themselves militarily, since another measure is to hand over weapons to the civilian community.
One of them is Congresswoman Kira Rudik, who through a tweet showed how she has learned to use a rifle and stated that women would defend the country in the same way as men. This inspired many women to make the same decision.

Thus, hundreds of women around the country have begun military training to join the popular defense. Other women have been recruited by the army as doctors. 

Why are we surprised?

In Ukraine this is not new. Although the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been in the headlines over the last few months due to the possible entry of Ukraine into NATO , the Russo-Ukrainian war dates back to 2014, the year in which Crimea was annexed illegally (according to the majority of the international community) to Russia and, in Ukraine, opponents took over the country by overthrowing the government of Viktor Yanukovych, associated with Russia.

Given the growing tension between the two countries, Ukraine began to prepare militarily for an event like the one they are experiencing today, and among the decisions that were made then, the recruitment of women was one of them. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, by May 2021, women represented 23% of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, a figure that multiplied by 15 in relation to the previous 10 years.

However, the participation of women in the Army was and continues to be permeated by machismo. According to the research project Invisible Battalion in Ukraine, carried out by Hanna Hrytsenko and presented in 2015, the women belonging to the army and who participated in the war in Donbas were made invisible in different ways: although they had participation, decision-making was not for them allowed; Many of them were not officially registered, so they could not receive payments and would not have veteran status in the long run. In addition, they were not allowed to be in combat, hold high positions and there was no specialized medical care for them. As if all of the above were not enough, not even basic elements such as footwear were delivered with their characteristics in mind.

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Today, conditions have not changed much, and women in the Ukrainian Armed Forces have made headlines in recent years, not because of their exploits and bravery, but because at one point their authorities required them to march in heels.

The consequences of war on women

It is no secret that women are one of the population groups most affected by war, especially those who are racialized. But normally women live the war as civilians and not an active part of it. As a consequence, there is a paternalistic attitude, and women are reconsidered in a domestic environment, which shows that gender roles and machismo are still present.

But if we see, for example, the case of Ukraine, we will realize that these problems are still present . Even if we review carefully, we will realize that there are many countries where there are women in the military who are made invisible and live in deplorable conditions compared to men.

Gender inequality is present in spaces of a military nature. And although we are seeing that today civilian women take up arms in Ukraine and they are the faces that are going around the world, it is most likely that they will be relegated to positions in which they do not make decisions and live in situations in which they are in handicapped by a macho vision.
It is necessary that we think about the consequences of war on women, not only civilians, but also on those who are made invisible under sexist imaginaries.

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