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“In Ukraine, we see very few images of women carrying arms”

“Women in combat. Myth or reality ? », under the direction of Jean Lopez, « De la guerre », n° 2, Summer 2022, Perrin, 212 p., 19 €.

Author, among others, of Barbarossa. 1941. Absolute War (with Lasha Otkhmezuri, Composite Passes, 2019) and Kharkiv 1942 (Perrin/Ministry of the Armed Forces, 2022), Jean Lopez is also editorial director of the bimonthly Wars & History and editor of the mook Of the war, the second issue of which appears. Surrounded by about twenty specialists, the journalist and historian devotes a file to it which deals with women in combat and revisits military history through stories, interviews, archives, portfolios or portraits.

What place has female military engagement occupied in history?

The phenomenon seems limited. Is this the reflection of a reality or of incomplete sources, knowing that the history of wars is written by men? In 1914-1918, strong male mobilization led to a significant presence of women in factories and health services, but they did not fight. In 1939-1945, the demand for combatants was so gigantic that the field of women was further extended to support functions (logistics, health care, administrative work), except on the front, with the exception of the USSR, which mobilizes one million women (for 30 million men). 10% of them, or 100,000 women, are then exposed to fire. This exception is explained by the egalitarian communist ideology and the massive losses, which amplify the arrival of women.

During decolonization, ideological and demographic factors propelled women somewhat into all positions, with the exception of combat, again. The Algerian revolution employs women activists in intelligence and health. And, in the 1970s and 1980s, the guerrillas tended towards gender equality. In this respect, the most interesting example is that of the Kurds. According to Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party [PKK], the national liberation for which he fights cannot be disconnected from that of women, especially since it takes place in the lands of Islam. It creates female battalions, with female command. In Kobane [Syrie], in 2014-2015, these battalions oppose the jihadists. They represent between 25% and 30% of the fighting forces.

Are there female fighters in the war in Ukraine?

We see very few images of women carrying arms. Those shown are of Ukrainian origin and seem above all to reflect a propaganda intention vis-à-vis the West. To the point that I wonder if the Kurdish fighters have not imposed a new mandatory iconic passage in the representation of war. Still, on the Russian side as on the Ukrainian side, the few figures I have lead me to think that these armies follow the same curve of increasing feminization of support functions. Russia and Ukraine no longer have enough qualified men to fulfill all the functions demanded by modern armies.

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