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Women and Conscription

On the 24th of February 2022, President Zelensky of Ukraine signed a general mobilisation in all regions of Ukraine for all men between the ages of 18 and 60. There was a travel ban imposed on these men and when their wives and children fled the country they were forced to stay behind. There was no choice.


In the United Kingdom, we are fortunate not to have war and conscription on our home front but there are several countries in which war still prevails. This year, the war in Ukraine has uncovered many hidden debates in the modern world: debates on how dependent we should be on other counties for oil; the extent of external intervention in war; whether mandatory conscription should extend to women.


Our earliest record of the use of conscription is during the 27th century BCE in Egypt. It became far more mainstream during the 20th century and was drawn into law in the UK in 1947. 85 of 195 countries in the world still use some form of conscription today. However, it varies. In Israel everyone must serve for two years and eight months when they turn 18 – though there are different sectors of the military they can choose from. In Brazil, like most countries, the mandatory conscription only extends to men.


There has certainly been argument for female conscription: linking it with feminism and empowerment. An argument that the reason women were never conscripted is that we were thought to be too weak, emotional, and fragile to face the hardships of war. We know that this is untrue. In 2022 women can do anything, so why not fight? It could also be argued that by female conscription being introduced we reduce the 'macho' stereotype in war. Historically, male glorification of war has been evident: going to war was righteous and brave even when it meant loss of lives to thousands of people for the aims of those who rule, who lead.


While the glorification of war has certainly been prevalent historically, in the 21st century, by and large, violence is condemned. Unwarranted invasions face huge moral backlash (as we have seen in Ukraine). It is far too easy to discount the enormous hardships of men in war. Especially when fighting for justice, we must recognise their bravery and courage. However, this is very different to shaming those who do not fight.


Today, many argue that there are many more reasons that women have not been conscripted. While the argument of 'who will look after the children?' seems broadly sexist, it is a hugely important question. In war, protecting the younger generation is vital. They are always blameless and always have the most to lose. They have their whole lives ahead of them which need to be protected. As that is the case, it follows that we need at least one parent or guardian for children. Currently it is women, but some propose that the conscription should be changed to one person per family. It does warrant me saying that in no way should looking after children be seen as a weak or bad thing. Crossing borders with a screaming 5-year old would be hugely difficult.


As always, we can look at history to explain our today. In school we study the 'land army' and the ammunition factories that were entirely run by women in WW1. In fact, one of the main reasons women got the vote is because the government could no longer deny the fact that women contributed to society and war: that economically it is necessary for someone to be keeping normal life up and running.


As with any complicated problem, we are left with a weigh up in the end. It is our overall outlook on war and women that needs to change on many fronts. We need to strike a balance between praising the brave and making it look like fighting is the only method of contribution. We need to lose the idea that women do not already contribute to war, and that conscription is the only way to contribute. Unless we change this narrative, changes in conscription laws will not matter. They will not matter unless we realise the choice to fight is far bigger than a patriotic choice.

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