The Spanish ministry of defense has announced that it is opening more positions to women. It is part of a wider effort to strengthen the country’s ability to participate in counterterrorism missions.
The announcement comes as Minister of Defense Margarita Robles visited the Spanish army’s command center for special operations in Rabasa, near Alicante. While there, Robles emphasized the importance that the military not only be ready in a technical capacity, but also in intelligence gathering and relationship building “by understanding the terrorists’ social and cultural domain.”
Some women have already joined elite units while other tasks, such as searching females, are already reserved for them. The increased recruitment of women is intended to enhance special operation forces’ ability to engage locals, particularly in Islamic countries. Conservative societies pose a particular challenge for male operators who are unable to interact with local women. Female soldiers are seen as a possible gateway of gathering intelligence in sensitive conflict zones.
Having opened up most jobs to women in 1999, women currently make up 12.7% of the Spanish military, which is above the NATO average of 11.1%. While it still lags behind Hungary (19.3%) and the United States (16.2%), it is ahead of other member states such as Germany and the United Kingdom.
In July, Patricia Ortega became Spain’s first female general.
This all follows increasing calls by the United Nations for increased female participation in conflict resolution. In April of this year, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres told the Security Council that women should be at “the centre of peacekeeping decision-making.”
The presence of female soldiers, in addition to contributing to increased intelligence capabilities, has also been shown to reduce incidents of sexual exploitation, improve reporting of sexual and gender-based violence and reduce tensions at checkpoint stops.
Spain will continue pushing for further female recruitment across its armed services.
This is a phenomenon that is increasingly taking hold in multiple countries. While some states, like Israel and the East African nation of Eritrea, have longstanding practices of conscripting women, others are just now formalising their inclusion. Beginning last year, Sweden reintroduced partial conscription for both men and women. The past few years have also seen the U.S. military take steps to enable further inclusion of women, including in special operations.
At the same time, increased recruitment of women does expose them to the risk of sexual harassment and assault. On average, women in military services are substantially more likely to be assaulted than their male counterparts. Additionally, women experience post-traumatic stress disorder mostly from sex-related attacks, whereas men are from combat operations.
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