Robert Egnell and Mayesha Alam
Georgetown University Press
278 pp. Index. £83.50. ISBN978 1 62616 626 4. Available as e-book.
International Affairs, Volume 95, Issue 4, July 2019, Pages 934–935,https://doi.org/10.1093/ia/iiz112
Published: 01 July 2019
Given current political and social realities, an academic book that addresses women and gender in the military from a comparative perspective is an important as well as an ambitious undertaking. The foreword to this book, by Melanne Verveer, begins with a statement that should be self-evident: ‘The prevention of conflict, the protection of human rights, and the promotion of peace and security worldwide cannot be achieved without the full and equal participation of women’ (p. vii). For those of us who work and do research in security studies and who have been addressing the importance of the inclusion of women in all aspects of the process, beginning a book like this with such an assertion is important. And while the importance of the equal participation of women in the military underlies each of the chapters, not all make the case effectively nor is the issue of ‘gender’ an ongoing theme.
The book grew from a symposium on ‘Bridging theory and practice’, organized by the Georgetown University Institute for Women. The authors are an eclectic mix; some are practitioners, others academics, and they are truly international. That makes for interesting insights into the ways in which different military forces view the need for and the role of women, and how they approach gender issues. However, like many volumes that grow out of conferences or symposiums, the chapters are uneven in their approach and inconsistent in quality regarding the topic.
Each of the chapters is an individual case-study: there are eight nation-based cases, one deals with women in UN peacekeeping operations, and one addresses NATO. They are framed by an introductory chapter to ‘set the stage’ and a relatively short concluding chapter. Looking across all the cases, a number of critical factors emerge: virtually all stress the challenges of recruiting and retaining women in the military; attitudes that prevail about women across military forces; the options (often limited) available to women; and the ways in which they are treated. While none of this should be surprising to anyone who has studied the topic of women in the military, what is consistent is the prevalence of the challenges that women face and the inconsistent ways in which national militaries and, in some cases, international organizations, have dealt with those challenges or been unable to do so.