As someone who considered snapping shots of my daughter sucking on a juice box at one of last weekend's antiwar rallies to begin her contentious objector file, I've always considered that female soldiers were a necessary evil of feminism. (In case you're wondering about the questionable sanity of documenting your toddler's commitment to pacifism beyond pacifiers, check this how-to for keeping your kid out of a war.) After all, what's fair's fair -- or rather if all is fair in life, so should it be in war. If the human species is hell-bent on drafting its young people into battle, then theoretically women should be every bit as accountable as men. The advantages to expanding the pool of potential soldiers to include young women seemed dubious both as a source of liberation and social good.
But I'd never stopped to think of the tangible benefits of women being the ones carrying the submachine guns, until I read the story in Wednesday's Christian Science Monitor about the new all-female peacekeeping force in Liberia. (Broadsheet has previously mentioned the brigade, first anticipating and then announcing the full femme force.)
By all accounts there are high hopes that this all-female peacekeeping force of 103 Indian women will inspire, reassure and, in general, stay clear of trouble. In a country that is struggling to recruit more women into its police force, the female peacekeepers may inspire other local women to sign up. And after years of rape and abuse scandals involving the overwhelmingly male United Nations peacekeeping forces attacking the very people they are supposed to be protecting, the all-female unit is expected to embody a new standard wherein women are not only respected but empowered.
Liberia seems to be the perfect place for this to take place -- in addition to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first female president of an African nation, the country's justice system, department of home affairs and domestic police force all have female leaders. But on the streets, the reality for most women is radically different: Rape and sexual assault are still common. According to Refugees International, as many as 40 percent of Liberian women were raped during the 14-year civil war that ended in 2003. Of course, given the right circumstances, I don't doubt that women soldiers can become as trigger-happy and aggressive as male ones, but seeing the value of female soldiers as a way to deter war-related rape and inspire women to see themselves as powerful has put a peculiar twist to my knee-jerk pacifism.