There has been a long-standing demand that women be part of security, peacemaking, peacekeeping, get protection during armed conflicts and be politically empowered. The Union home minister has said that there will be 33% reservation for women in constable-level posts in the Central Reserve Police Force and Central Industrial Security Force, which are paramilitary forces. Will this empower women or securitise and militarise society? Further, what about other reservations for women, like in Parliament?
The argument for affirmative action for women in security is, first, women should have more roles in security and peacekeeping. Second, women should have equal opportunities in all public institutions. Third, since more women are engaged in all types of armed conflicts, insurgencies and even terror attacks, state security needs more women security personnel. Fourth, the nature of military methodology has dramatically changed from pure physical combat to more push button and smart technologies. Fifth, the UN Security Council has passed many resolutions like 1325 and others that ask countries to involve women in peacekeeping and protect women in conflict situations.
There are several aspects to the debate of women’s role in war, security and peace. The traditional point of view is that security is a male affair. And indeed, wars have been dominated by men who planned, fought, became heroes and martyrs and then wrote war histories and made war films. War, security and even strategic thinking are largely masculinist discourse that intersects comfortably with patriarchal and militarised frameworks.
It was generally believed that women have been absent from wars. But this has never been the case. Women played secondary roles in wars, as wives and mothers of soldiers, as care givers, maintaining logistics involved. Women’s bodies have always been seen and equated as territory during war, where women are symbols of honour who can be either violated or safeguarded.
The belief that women are essentially peaceful and should remain this way is a binary stereotyping rejected by all genuine social research, which shows that men and women can be trained to be militarist and aggressive, with the caveat that since women do have motherhood functions and roles, they are just less inclined to use force. Further, women are more inclined to oppose wars because through history they have been at the receiving end of violence during war, post-war reconstruction and during peace. In addition, they are left out of peacemaking, power-sharing and state political activities that remain the domain of men.
Many argue that it is best to keep women out of security forces because this will militarise women and increase the use of force in civil relations, making society even more violent. Why should women be excluded from the huge security complex? Women, like men, have the right to make the choice of joining security forces. Moreover, if security forces follow international laws, especially the Geneva Conventions and its additional protocols, they would be better places to work in.
In Israel, every adult has to do military service. However, women are not sent into major battles, but do participate in security activities. There is currently a debate in Israel if women should be involved in major combat roles and hostilities. The situation in the United States and the European Union is similar. The experience of US women security posted in Afghanistan is known to have been very controversial, where many women were raped and sexually harassed by their own colleagues.
So what does 33% reservation for women in select security services, and that to at the lowest level, mean? One small step forward, which needs to be assiduously followed up by meaningful changes for women’s effective participation in State institutions. This can come if there is affirmative action for women at all levels and all institutions, beginning with Parliament. Women constables will clearly not be in any position to take decisions — their importance lies in their presence and training.
The intention of bringing in women should be to make a more gender-sympathetic and pro-people security force. The key would be to train the security forces, both men and women, to be gender-sensitive, work in accordance with the Constitution and be trained in human rights. Further service conditions for women need to be improved. This means adequate facilities, including for child care and medicare.
Ultimately, women cannot be deployed merely as constables. A move such as this will have real meaning if women have avenues to be promoted, join the security at different levels and, most important, are also decision-makers and participants in peace processes. Currently there are several peace talks between the Indian State and insurgent groups. One that was recently concluded was the talks with the NSCN (IM). None of these talks have any presence of women. For serious security sector reforms, there is a need to have women, civil society and people’s representatives participating in these talks.
There is a need for India to adopt the UNSC resolution 1325 and other following resolutions in a much more serious way. It is clear that while women are needed for security, they are much more needed for peace. To make peace sustainable and think of security as one that combines national with human security is the only way that security itself can be truly achieved. Getting 33% reservation for women in one section of the paramilitary will only have meaning if it is urgently followed up with real feminisation of security doctrines.
Anuradha M Chenoy is professor, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. The views expressed are personal.