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Opinion

Anna Rosсh: "It is more dangerous to be a woman at war, than a soldier".

10.05.2022

"It is more dangerous to be a woman at war, than a soldier". Major general Patrick Cammaert, the former commander of United Nations peace mission. 

Yes, this statement is probably the truth. First of all, sexual violence has always been a part of any war. But the world recognized raping as a war crime not so long ago, after the war in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. It means until recently very little attention was given to sexual violence during wartime.

Take for example World War 2 , the scale of the war crimes was so huge ( first of all the concentration camps) that there was just not enough time and emotions to think about the sexual violence.

But it doesn’t mean that there was no sexual violence. Its' dark trail follows not only the Soviet army, but also armies of the Allies that were liberating Europe from German occupation. You can hear lots of these stories coming from Poland, Check Republic and Germany. This was especially severe at the end - when liberation troops were crossing Europe - there were mass cases of raping. In the post war Germany women were just not allowed to talk about sexual assault. 


Protest to support Ukrainian women near the Russian embassy, Tallinn
Photo: Galina Aksakova

But of course not only Soviet army soldiers did it. Sexual violence is often a part of the  tactic, as well as results of lack of the discipline in the troops. For example, today’s NATO army pays tremendous attention to the discipline of the soldiers, they are constantly repeated what is unacceptable what behavior is unacceptable when it comes to civilians so the cases of rape are quite rare. 

Mass raping is common when there is a lack of discipline, no command spirit and free access to alcohol. 

And this lead to uncontrolled anger, because of being under influence or even because the alcohol is over. Sexual assault is just an easy way to let go of the steam and release the anger. 

Sexual violence can also have genocidal aims. Women are seen as mothers of the nation that needs to be extinguished. So a rape is an act of “ punishment”. And even more, it’s a way to hurt the vulnerable people who will give life to the new generation. 

Women are the ones staying on a home front. They are barely armed, so have less ways to protect themselves. As a result of the war conflict, they usually end up with way more responsibilities compared to the peaceful times.  

Women are left to protect their house, harvest, children. They often take care of the other members of community, parents of the neighbors or elderly people who could not leave their home…

They have not just one mission, but more like 15. In a  lot of war conflicts, including Ukrainian, you can notice so called “survival guilt”. Women feel guilty that they can’t be on the front line, and that’s why they try to do too much on a home front. It results in huge overload, that is never prized enough. 


Anastasia evacuated disabled dogs from Irpin
Photo: novy.tv

Let’s just take this example, a woman who spends 16 hours a day making meals for the combats will not get a war medal. But a combat who was defending the country with their platoon will. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t deserve it, but still…

It’s extremely difficult to fight against sexism during wartime. It’s just going back to the basics and people follow their typical gender roles. 

There are still very few women in the professional army, besides Israel of course. It’s hard to combine army carrier and  motherhood. Every professional soldier will sooner or later have a conversation about his carrier perspectives. And when it comes to a female officer… There will be a panel of 55 men in front of her telling that she has 10 more years in army at max, unless she is lucky enough to find someone sooner and get married. 

But every good commander in the western armies says that women they’ve  been working with, had a way bigger impact than expected.

Every military organization should not only be based on the culture of trust and confidence in the decision taken by the their military leaders, but also have space for a dialogue. Because if only one commander takes all the decisions and doesn’t have all the information,  things can become confusing. "Women actually do a lot to create and open atmosphere and make sure everybody hears each other".


Mortar Valeria Burlakova.
Photo: ua.news

It would be quite rare to meet a little girl that dresses up like a soldier and play with a toy gun. 

When they grow up they understand that  it make no sense to support  the war. People who support war seems to be inhuman.

They just get it - maybe because they were way less involved in war games as children. 

I know a few women in charge of private security companies. Usually it’s the only child in the family and the father wanted to keep the business in the family.  These women are a lot more careful when it comes to using arms, they even have completely different approach in their security procedures. They always think how to keep everyone alive, even the one who is attacking. 


Volonteer and military instructor Marusya Zveroboi (alias)
Photo: ua.news

A first instinct of a man is to kill the opponent. Women, on the other side are a lot more humane. 

Studies show that when women are taking part in peace building, all the reached agreements are longer lasting and stable. 

It’s mostly related to the actual peace negotiations rather than the ceasefire negotiations. The role of the women is crucial, as they usually are able to have a better overview of how to rebuild their country postwar. 

Men are more practical. Something is broken, we need to rebuild it and we need bricks - there will always be a man who can deliver bricks. And there always will be men who will finance it, and even build a new factory that will produce whatever is needed. And women are the once who take care of schools, hospitals, developmental centers. They ask simple questions. What will the kids do after school, when they return home after the war? 

They take care of all the basic things that help the society to overcome the crisis and  continue developing. We saw this example in Bosnia, Balkans and Rwanda. You should pay enough attention to public wellbeing and what is in the head if the young generation, to make peace stronger and longer. 

It’s good that in the case with Ukraine you don’t have to explain, why people need help. 

The situation was different at the time of the war in Balkans. My professor, who at that time worked at Pentagon, said that back in the 90’s they could not even find a map of Yugoslavia, a kind of map that would show all the countries that came out of it. And Ukraine is already getting a lot of financial support. When everything will be over, it’s expected that the country will receive a huge amount of investment. So things are  going to be a lot better, than it was let’s say in Afghanistan.


Photo: Facebook Ministry of Defence of Ukraine

But unfortunately harsh consequences are unavoidable - both social and economical. Any war changes the society, even though it can vary case by case. 

Just imagine a woman  who is left with nothing , perhaps with kids, but no husband , no house. And then another woman whose husband luckily returned from front alive and they can continue to live together in their own house. This will be two completely different lives. Let’s hope that people who lost their partner at war will get the support they need. Again, it’s good the whole world understands how serous is the situation is. 

It is the stories about women that brought worldwide awareness and support for Ukraine. 

A girl that dies in shooting, while bringing food to the elderly people on the other side of the town. A woman who flees from Kharkiv with dogs from a pet shelter, and not just any dogs, but dogs in the wheelchairs. The student wearing a uniform and holding a machine gun. A female doctor who refuses to evacuate with children, to stay and help the wounded. You could find those photos all over the place since the war have begun. It shows a woman as a warrior and as a human, who risks her life to save others and her unique role in any conflict.


Liza Chernyshenko evacuated 4 wounded with a car during shooting
Photo: facebook.com/1tmolviv

From the beginning of the war there are no more commercials on Ukrainian TV channels, they were substituted by social support videos. TV channels are also showing mental support videos. For example cartoons to remind people to leave the house and go for a walk, to dream, make plans, go to their favorite cafe if it’s safe enough...

A lot of this social videos are aimed to support women, they say that if your child is safe, that is the most important thing and you are already doing a great job. You can also see grandma’s that are baking bread for the front, woman making toys,  collecting donations. People say how important it is to work together toward the common goal. 

Ukrainians realized not only how important is a role of a woman in the wartime, but also when the peace is back.

Text: Tatyana N., head of an analytical bureau specializing in unstable regions. Name changed for personal safety reasons.

Written by: Anna Roche

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