July 3rd, 2012
09:09 AM ET

Germany wants more female fighters

Editor's Note: The following text is from GlobalPost, which provides views — importantmoving or just odd — from around the world.

By Siobhan Dowling, GlobalPost

The German military is changing. What was once a male bastion has slowly been taking on a more female hue, with women accounting for almost one in 10 of those serving in the armed forces.

Now the military, or Bundeswehr, says it wants to see even more women in its ranks. “Currently 9 percent of all soldiers are women,” Chief of Staff Volker Wieker told Bild am Sonntag this month. “Our goal is a combined ratio of 15 percent.”

To achieve that, the army intends to make itself more attractive to female recruits, in particular by improving family-friendly structures. Yet problems persist.

Already, the transformation has been rapid, with the Bundeswehr only really opening up to women just over a decade ago. While women were first allowed to join the Bundeswehr in 1975, they were confined to serving in the medical and music corps.

The idea of female soldiers serving in active combat, however, was still very much taboo. In fact, a ban was even anchored in the constitution.

That proved controversial. Some feminists wanted equal rights for women extended to the military. Others rejected the army as a pillar of patriarchal structures, while many on the left rejected anything to do with the military. Conservatives, meanwhile, were firmly against the notion of women fighting. Former Defense Minister Volker Rühe, a member of the conservative Christian Democrats, once said: “I don’t think much of women in tanks.”

Nevertheless, the ban was finally overturned in 2000 — not by German politicians but after a young electrician by the name of Tanja Kreil took her case to the European Court of Justice. She argued that her application to join the Bundeswehr had been rejected on the basis of her gender rather than qualifications. The court found in her favor, ruling that Germany was contravening European Union equality legislation.

As a result, Article 12a of the German constitution, known as the Basic Law, had to be changed. Instead of stating that women could not carry weapons, it now says women cannot be forced to carry weapons.

And once that hurdle was removed many more women began signing up.

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While there were around 4,500 women in the military in 2000, there are now just over 18,000, out of a total of 197,000 active soldiers. They can be found in all sections of the army, serving as military police officers, working as sonar technicians on U-boats or flying Tornado fighter planes. In fact Ulrike Flender, the first female fighter pilot, has been named one of Germany’s “100 greatest women” by mass circulation newspaper Bild.

Yet the opening up of the army to women has always been on a voluntary basis. That was not the case for men, until recently. They had to either do a year’s military service or opt for an alternative such as working in a hospital.

In 2011 conscription was scrapped as part of an overhaul of the German armed forces. A new streamlined professional army was to be created, more in keeping with Germany’s new military role in the world. With foreign deployments in places like Kosovo and Afghanistan, recruits that just spend a year in the forces are of little military use, yet training them is expensive. By cutting out the conscripts, the army is expected to save €8.3 billion ($11 billion).

Yet changing demographics, with fewer young people leaving school, as well as plummeting unemployment and even a looming skills shortage have meant that the army has had to up its game when it comes to recruiting professional soldiers. And that focus very much includes women, a relatively untapped potential source of new recruits.

Chief of Staff Volker Wieker insists that the Bundeswehr is making an effort to become more attractive to female recruits. “We have already built [daycares] in some of the bigger barracks,” he told Bild am Sonntag, adding that the intention is to further expand on the provision of daycare. "It's quite clear, we must clearly improve compatibility of family and career.”

Since 2005 there has been a so-called soldiers’ equality law, which is supposed to make it easier to combine a family with a military career, and includes flexible work schedules. Another aim of the legislation is to root out discrimination in the forces. Equality officers are assigned to units to ensure that it is adhered to.

However, the latest annual report by Hellmut Königshaus, the parliamentary commissioner to the military, found that the Bundeswehr was failing to deliver sufficiently on these family friendly measures, such as providing enough parent-child rooms or daycare facilities. The report pointed out, for example, that another 1,000 daycare places were still needed.

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Meanwhile, other problems persist for the women soldiers.

In a book written to mark the 10th anniversary of the opening up of the army to women, Bärbel Reichardt, herself an officer, related the experiences of these new female soldiers and revealed the discrimination they can sometimes face. “Somehow we always have per se a special position,” she wrote. “During officer training at the Bundeswehr, one is either treated very carefully by the male officers or rejected.”

That is echoed in a report by the Bundeswehr Institute of Social Sciences from 2008 which argued that the process of integrating women into the military “cannot be described as having been completed.”

For a start, it found that many male soldiers were not happy about the presence of female soldiers, and that they rated their female comrades’ abilities lower than other male soldiers. It also found that male soldiers saw women as competition when it came to promotion opportunities.

As a result of its research the institute recommended that intensive gender training be institutionalized in the army.

There is also another serious problem that many female soldiers face: sexual harassment and even assault.

Research by the institute found that 58 percent of female soldiers said they had been the subject of sexist or salacious comments, while 19 percent had had to deal with unwanted physical contact or attempts at such contact. Meanwhile 4.6 percent said that they were aware of sexual assault, including rape, or attempted assault in their units.

Nevertheless, in his latest annual report, parliamentary commissioner Könighaus was upbeat about the developments in the Bundeswehr. “Individual cases of misogynistic behaviour, including comments by comrades or superiors, or sexual harassment have been reported,” he wrote.

“Where this was proved, it has been punished either through disciplinary action or at times prosecution.”

Yet, on the whole the situation was improving, he found. “Aside from these individual cases, in areas with a high percentage of women the tone has become more respectful.”

Topics: Germany • Military

soundoff (129 Responses)
  1. 100% Ethio

    Really sorry for the dual display of personalities. Sometimes, when I forget to follow the treatment prescribed for my condition, I do things like dual posting. Will try to be better, I don't promise.

    July 4, 2012 at 10:58 am | Reply
  2. 100% Ethio

    There is a chemical imbalance in my brain. Makes me do all sort of things.

    July 4, 2012 at 10:59 am | Reply
  3. Yoshi Togukawa

    100% Ethio: What do you do at Website.com?

    July 4, 2012 at 11:05 am | Reply
  4. Patrick-2

    One problem here might be that the German women are not quite as nihilstic as the American ones are. Seriously speaking here, neither men nor women should see any glory in killing other people. Killing is but one thing, bad, bad and bad!!!!

    July 4, 2012 at 11:23 am | Reply
  5. Phunnie boy

    That was well stated even if I do say so myself! Thank you, Patrick.

    July 4, 2012 at 11:26 am | Reply
    • Patrick-2

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      July 4, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Reply
    • Patrick-2

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      July 4, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Reply
    • Phunnie boy

      I so smart.

      July 5, 2012 at 10:32 am | Reply
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    July 4, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Reply
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    July 4, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Reply
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    July 4, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Reply
    • 100%Ethio

      SuperHombre=islamic pig

      July 5, 2012 at 7:11 am | Reply
    • CNN Reader

      Esse, learn to spell then come back and post.

      July 5, 2012 at 9:35 am | Reply
  9. Maybe

    Thay gust sent one to Canada ?pnm.

    July 4, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Reply
    • HUWEICHAO

      Maybe you have no idea what your say!

      July 5, 2012 at 8:21 am | Reply
    • CNN Reader

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      July 5, 2012 at 9:37 am | Reply
  10. qwriters

    Germans can have millions of women if they want to but if you go to war with civilized world again you will get the same punishment you got in the past. Hiding behind women will not save you .

    July 5, 2012 at 4:48 am | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      I don't want to talk to you no more, you empty headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.

      July 5, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Reply
  11. qwriters

    These women will kick your islamic butt all over the fukking desert. Moron|!

    July 5, 2012 at 8:22 am | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Please qwriters, let's not have any more of this filthy Tea Party lingo here on this web site. It has no place here!

      July 5, 2012 at 10:40 am | Reply
      • Joseph McCarthy

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        July 5, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
      • Marine5484

        I see that Phunnie boy managed to usurp your name too, Joseph. He seems to be doing it to all of us here. I want to say Joseph, that I too have a loathing for that filthy Tea Party lingo and that's something that Phunnie boy can't do anything about!!!!!!!!

        July 5, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
      • Marine5484

        Who is funny boy?
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        July 5, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  12. CNN Reader

    Yo yo yo dawg... abssesses?

    Do you really want the world to know you're dense?

    July 5, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Reply
  13. NorCalMojo

    I didn't realize the Bundeswehr had fighters. I thought they were all designated for noncombat roles.

    Maybe the men weren't tough enough and they're trying a different approach.

    July 5, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Reply
    • NorCalMojo

      So I played it smart and did a minimum of research and here is what I found to answer my own question,
      What is the Buneswehr:
      The German Bundeswehr (Germany's National Defense Force, Recognized as the German Army) is Arguably Europe's most Advanced and well Trained Military. Their Infantry's Equipment is almost completely German with only a few Exceptions. Their Armament consists of the Heckler&Koch G36K Karabiner Main Assault Rifle, the HK USP .40 Pistol, HK MP5 (Various Models), MG3 Heavy Machinegun, the HK21 Light Machinegun, and is Supposed to soon be Armed with the Futuristic HK G11 Assault Rifle to add on to the Already Formidable Armament. They also have Various Eurocopters, almost all License Built in Germany like the EC635 and the EC725.

      The Bundeswehr's most Recent Missions, per se, is Peacekeeping Missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan as the ISAF.

      Read more: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_good_is_the_bundeswehr#ixzz1znJDhK85

      July 5, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Reply
    • usstv

      maybe more women will make a better joy for foreign troops.

      July 6, 2012 at 1:31 am | Reply
    • usstv

      A big LOL to you NorCalMojo, german army is definitly not the most advance army at all.German army/military has always been beaten in history. Hitler knew this . hitler told his people a(master race)lie , germans bought it and tough that being racist and delusional help them to win wars. result: Germany got the worst military defeat in history. being racist did not make them a master race but the most defeated race .

      July 6, 2012 at 1:32 am | Reply
      • Micah

        You have done research and come to this conclusion.
        Or, you pulled these "facts" out of your entry.

        July 6, 2012 at 8:54 am |
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    July 5, 2012 at 11:54 pm | Reply
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    Europe, although it’s a small continent has culture steeping all through it. Compare East European women with West European women and you will find a world of differences. Women from the western part of the continent are perhaps more attuned toward the American way of life but if it is mystery you are looking at you should concentrate on the beautiful East European ladies.^'

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