Women in the military

World map showing the integration of women in the armed forces in 2016
Women in military world
  women not permitted in military.
  women permitted in military, no further information
  Women permitted in the military, but treated unequally (for example, not allowed in frontline combat)
  Women permitted in the military, treated as equals
  conscription for women
  No data, no armed forces, no stable form of government or ongoing/recent policy changes.
Four American F-15 Eagle pilots from the 3d Wing walk to their jets at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Members of the YPJ, alongside their male YPG counterparts

Women have served in the military in many different roles in various jurisdictions throughout history.

Since 1914, in western militaries, women have served in greater numbers and more diverse roles than before. In the 1970s, most Western armies began allowing women to serve in active duty in all military branches.[1] In 2006, eight countries conscripted women into military service.[2] In 2013, Norway became the first NATO country to draft women, as well as the first country in the world to conscript women on the same formal terms as men. In 2017, neighboring Sweden followed suit and in 2018, the Netherlands joined this line-up.[3][4]


World War I

During the First World War, the United States was in total warfare efforts.[5]  Every person had to help in contributing to the war. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that everyone needed to fight.  The country needed to continue to fund its troops and support the war financially while soldiers were fighting. The United States relied on organizations to support war efforts.  Women joined organizations such as the Committee on Public Information in order to educate people about the war. This committee additionally promoted nationality. In addition to working for committees having to do with education, women worked in all sorts of positions.  Many women became YWCA members and went overseas to help soldiers. This was the first time in history that women of all classes were working together to help the war efforts.[6] Upper-class women founded many voluntary war organizations while middle and lower class women worked in these organizations by working as nurses or by filling in the jobs of men.


Russian poster from Russian Civil War years

The only nation to deploy female combat troops in substantial numbers was Russia. From the onset, female recruits either joined the military in disguise or were tacitly accepted by their units. The most prominent were a contingent of front-line light cavalry in a Cossack regiment commanded by a female colonel, Alexandra Kudasheva. Others included Maria Bochkareva, who was decorated three times and promoted to senior NCO rank, while The New York Times reported that a group of twelve schoolgirls from Moscow had enlisted together disguised as young men.[7] In 1917, the Provisional Government raised a number of "Women's Battalions", with Bochkareva given an officer's commission in command. They were disbanded before the end of the year. In the later Russian Civil War, they fought both for the Bolsheviks (infantry) and the White Guard.[8]


In Serbia, a few individual women played key military roles. Scottish doctor Elsie Ingles coordinated a retreat of approximately 8,000 Serbian troops through Romania and revolutionary Russia, up to Scandinavia and finally onto transport ships back to England .[9][10] Another woman, Milunka Savic, enlisted in the Serbian army in place of her brother. She fought throughout the war, becoming possibly the most decorated woman in military history.[11][12]

In 1917 Loretta Walsh became the first woman to enlist as a woman. A 1948 law made women a permanent part of the military services. In 1976, the first group of women were admitted into a U.S. military academy.[13] Approximately 16% of the 2013 West Point class consisted of women.[14] In the 1918 Finnish Civil War, more than 2,000 women fought in the Women's Red Guards.[15]

During the Spanish Civil War, thousands of women fought in mixed-gender combat and rearguard units, or as part of militias.[16][17]

World War II

Then-Princess Elizabeth served in the British Army, during the 1940s.
Roza Shanina, a Soviet sniper during World War II, credited with 54 confirmed target hits. About 400,000 Soviet women served in front-line duty units,[18] chiefly as medics and nurses.

All the major participating nations in World War II enlisted women. The majority served as nursing and clerical or support roles. Over 500,000 women had combat roles in anti-aircraft units in Britain and Germany, as well as front-line units in the Soviet Union.

United Kingdom

In 1938, the British took the lead in establishing uniformed services for women (small units of nurses had long been in service). In late 1941, Britain began conscripting women, sending most into factories and some into the military, especially the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) attached to the army. The ATS began as a women's auxiliary in 1938. In 1941, the ATS was granted military status, although women received only two thirds of male pay. Women had a well-publicized role in handling anti-aircraft guns against German planes and V-1 missiles. The daughter of Prime Minister Winston Churchill was there, and he said that any general who saved him 40,000 fighting men had gained the equivalent of a victory. By August 1941, women were operating fire-control instruments; although they were never allowed to pull the trigger, since killing the enemy was considered to be too masculine.[19] By 1943, 56,000 women were in Anti-Aircraft Command, mostly in units close to London where they faced a risk of death, but not of capture.[18][20] The first death of a woman in Anti-Aircraft Command occurred in April 1942.[21]


The Third Reich had similar roles for women. The SS-Helferinnen were regarded as part of the SS if they had undergone training at a Reichsschule SS. All other female workers were contracted to the SS and chosen largely from concentration camps. Women served in auxiliary units in the navy (Kriegshelferinnen), air force (Luftnachrichtenhelferinnen) and army (Nachrichtenhelferin).[22][23]

Second woman to win the Iron Cross, nurse Elfriede Wnuk

In 1944-45 roughly 500,000 women were volunteer uniformed auxiliaries in the German armed forces (Wehrmacht). About the same number served in civil aerial defense, 400,000 volunteered as nurses and many more replaced drafted men in the wartime economy.[23] In the Luftwaffe they served in combat roles helping to operate anti-aircraft systems to shoot down Allied bombers. By 1945, German women held 85% of the billets as clerics, accountants, interpreters, laboratory workers and administrative workers, together with half of the clerical and junior administrative posts in high-level field headquarters.[24]

The German nursing service consisted of four main organizations, one for Catholics, one for Protestants, the secular DRK (Red Cross) and the "Brown Nurses," for committed Nazi women. Military nursing was primarily handled by the DRK, which came under partial Nazi control. Frontline medical services were provided by male medics and doctors. Red Cross nurses served widely within the military medical services, staffing the hospitals close to the front lines and at risk of attack. Two dozen were awarded the Iron Cross for heroism under fire.[22] Brown Nurses were forced to look away while their incapacitated patients were murdered by war criminals.[25]

Hundreds of women auxiliaries (Aufseherin) served in the SS in the camps, the majority of which were at Ravensbrück.

In Germany, women worked and were told by Hitler to produce more pure Aryan children to fight in future wars.[26]

Japanese American Women

During the second world war, many Japanese American women lost their jobs or pay because they were sent to relocation camps.  Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans were faced with discrimination. Many Americans called it the "yellow peril"[27] and called Japanese people "japs".  In 1913, California passed the Alien Land Law which prohibited "aliens ineligible for citizenship" from owning land to grow crops on. Despite the discrimination, many Japanese American women volunteered to serve in the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps.  Sexism along with racism was something that these women faced when they joined WAAC. Even while dealing with discrimination, Japanese American women were able to greatly help the United States. Many women were hired as interpreters, translators, and interrogators in the Military Intelligence Service.  In 1948, the Women's Army Corps was permanently established and remained until 1978 when women were allowed into the army.


In Italy, during the second world war, the Female Auxiliary Service (Italian: Servizio Ausiliario Femminile, SAF) was a women's' corps of the armed forces of the Italian Social Republic, whose components, all voluntary, were commonly referred to as auxiliaries. The commander was the Brig. Gen. Piera Gatteschi Fondelli.

Yugoslav Partisans

The Yugoslav National Liberation Movement had 6,000,000 civilian supporters; its two million women formed the Antifascist Front of Women (AFŽ), in which the revolutionary coexisted with the traditional. The AFŽ managed schools, hospitals and local governments. About 100,000 women served with 600,000 men in Tito's Yugoslav National Liberation Army. It stressed its dedication to women's rights and gender equality and used the imagery of folklore heroines to attract and legitimize the fighters.[28] After the war, although women were relegated to traditional gender roles, Yugoslavia's historians emphasized women's roles in the resistance. After Yugoslavia broke up in the 1990s, women's contributions to the resistance were forgotten.[29][30]

Vietnam War

Though relatively little official data exists about female Vietnam War veterans, the Vietnam Women's Memorial Foundation estimates that approximately 11,000 military women were stationed in Vietnam during the conflict. Nearly all of them were volunteers, and 90 percent served as military nurses, though women also worked as physicians, air traffic controllers, intelligence officers, clerks and other positions in the U.S. Women's Army Corps, U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marines and the Army Medical Specialist Corps. In addition to women in the armed forces, an unknown number of civilian women served in Vietnam on behalf of the Red Cross, United Service Organizations (USO), Catholic Relief Services and other humanitarian organizations, or as foreign correspondents for various news organizations.[31]

In addition to the U.S. military women who served in Vietnam, an unknown number of female civilians willingly gave their services on Vietnamese soil during the conflict. Many of them worked on behalf of the American Red Cross, Army Special Services, United Service Organizations (USO), Peace Corps, and various religious groups such as Catholic Relief Services.[32]

Other American women traveled to Vietnam as foreign correspondents for news organizations, including Georgette "Dickey" Chappelle, a writer for the National Observer who was killed by a mine while on patrol with U.S.[33] Marines outside Chu Lai in November 1965. According to the Vietnam Women's Memorial Foundation, 59 female civilians died during the conflict.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

A Congolese female para-commando during jump training at capital Leopoldville in 1967

The Democratic Republic of the Congo began training an initial 150 women as para-commandos for the Armée Nationale Congolaise in 1967. Many more were trained subsequently, over a period of years. The women received parachute and weapons training, although it is unclear to what extent they were actually integrated into the combat units of the Congo.


In 1999, the BBC reported that about a quarter of the Eritrean soldiers in the Eritrean–Ethiopian War were women.[34]


Israel is the only country with conscription for women.[35][36][37] Mandatory conscription for single and married women without children began in 1948.[38]

Initially, women conscripts served in the Women's Army Corps, serving as clerks, drivers, welfare workers, nurses, radio operators, flight controllers, ordnance personnel and instructors.[39] Roles for women beyond technical and secretarial support began opening up in the late 1970s and early 1980s.[36]

In 2000, the Equality amendment to the Military Service law granted equal opportunities in the military to women found physically and personally suitable for a job. Women started to enter combat support and light combat roles in a few areas, including the Artillery Corps, infantry units and armored divisions. A few platoons named Carakal were formed for men and women to serve together in light infantry. Many women joined the Border Police.[36]

Despite these changes, fewer than 4 percent of women service members are in combat positions such as infantry, crew of tanks or other armored vehicles, artillery guns service, fighter pilots, etc. Rather, they are concentrated in "combat-support".[40]

Gulf War

In 1990 and 1991, some 40,000 American military women were deployed during the Gulf War operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm; however, no women served in combat. A policy enacted in 1994 prohibited women from assignment to ground combat units below the brigade level.[41]

21st century

An Indian female officer in the Indian Army briefing Russian soldiers during a joint exercise in 2015.

The proportion of female military personnel varies internationally; for example, it is approximately 3% in India, 10% in the UK,[42] 15% in France,[43] 13% in Sweden,[44] 16% in the US,[45] 15.3% in Canada,[46] and 27% in South Africa.[47] While a marginal percentage of women are reported in military service globally, estimates following the increasing trend of military women capped predictions at about 10% for 1980.[48] As expressed by the current percentages, these numbers have not risen much passed that, with the exception of South Africa. Many state armed forces that recruit women continue to bar them from ground close combat roles (roles that would require them to kill at close quarters).[49] This practice preserves male domination within militaries. In limiting female entry, militaries have maintained their characteristic brutal masculinity.[50] Compared with male personnel and female civilians, female personnel face substantially higher risks of sexual harassment and sexual violence, according to British,[51] Canadian[52] and US[53] research. Not only have women been left unprotected, but the major cause of PTSD experienced by women is identified as military sexual trauma (MST). The male experience of PTSD derives from that of combat trauma.[50]