Women in war

8 March 2022

Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead. Knowing that bias exists isn’t enough, action is needed to level the playing field.

This International Women’s Day, the theme is #BreaktheBias and Associate Professor Sarah Percy from the School of Political Science and International Studies is fighting for equality by questioning arguments against female combat.

In pursuit of a gender equal world, Dr Percy is asking why some nations aren’t incorporating women into their militaries.

She is in the final stages of publishing a book on the history of women in combat. Women in War explores how and why women have fought throughout history. 

Military historian John Keegan once said “warfare is…the one human activity from which women, with the most insignificant exceptions, have always and everywhere stood apart….women…do not fight. They rarely fight among themselves and they never, in any military sense, fight men. If warfare is as old as history and as universal as mankind, we must now enter the supremely important limitation that it is an entirely masculine activity.”

However, Dr Percy said the 800,000 women who fought in combat for the USSR during World War II – as snipers, tank drivers, frontline infantry troops, and fighter and bomber pilots – would disagree.

“My book demonstrates women have fought on the world’s battlefields, and while their numbers have often been small, their stories are not just quirky exceptions to military history,” she said.

“The moments where women have fought reveal a lot about the nature of war and how we define combat.”

Associate Professor Sarah Percy
Associate Professor Sarah Percy.

Dr Percy’s book also asks the question: why did it take so long for women to be admitted to combat in modern western liberal democracies which otherwise demonstrate gender equality?

“The US had female astronauts 30 years before women were allowed in combat. I argue that the answer is that much of women’s military history was erased and ignored,” she said.

Dr Percy’s research in the norm against female combat has been published in the Journal of Global Security Studies.

This International Women’s Day we celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness against bias and take action for equality.