Discussing the visibility and cultural factors that inf luence the position of
women in the armed forces is the object of the study that is presented here. The
Netherlands do not have a martial tradition and are believed to have a feminine
‘soft’ culture , but nevertheless women have always been underrepresented.
Nowadays conscription is suspended, the threat to national security is low and
the tasks the armed forces are most actively participating in are related to peacekeeping,
peace enforcing, conf lict resolution and nation building. Since 1991
the budget has constantly been cut. Downsizing and reorganization go hand in
These changes and activating personnel policies promote the presence of women
in the organization. Women are necessary to solve the recruitment problems
of the All Volunteer Force, equal opportunity acts require higher female participation
and make discrimination a criminal offence, peace keeping missions
benefit from the skills women bring into the armed forces, legitimacy is raised by
higher participation of women and many units could simply not function without
Despite all changes for the good, paternity care, equal opportunity regulations,
networking, international UN resolutions, etceteras, women are still not very
visible as is demonstrated by the stagnating participation of military women in
the Armed Forces at a meager 9 per cent in 2006. In four years hardly any increase
has been realized. The policy target of 12 percent in 2010 seems impossible
to reach at this pace of development. Culture and masculine norms and values
form barriers to the higher participation of women in Armed Forces and these
norms and values prove very resistant to change.
In the end all resistance and opposition stems from a demographic logic. Women
will rise to equal status only when they are represented in larger numbers. Most
importantly, they need to be represented better in higher ranks because the
higher ranking female officers serve as a role model for the upcoming generations.
When women are represented in the top of the organization in sufficient
large numbers eventually the culture of masculinity might lose its sharp edges.
However, these numbers are not attained easily and masculine culture is resilient.
This is why more research into demographic developments and masculinity
The demographic logic implies that it is very difficult to reach the policy target
of 3 percent females in the rank of colonel or higher by the year 2010 unless
recruitment by horizontal intake is applied. A recommendation that follows from
the need to analyze and to keep track of demographic developments is to better
and more systematically study the statistics regarding women in Armed Forces to
allow evaluation of emancipation policies concerning key concepts such as occupational
segregation, type of contract, retention. Present (half yearly) reports by
the MOD, thorough as they are, do not supply all core statistics systematically and
are not made subject to prognostic demographic study. A yearly monitor study by
independent scholars, commissioned by the MOD, is a necessity.
Equally important would be an in depth study of the culture of masculinity
within the Armed Forces. This culture is probably one of the most persistent
barriers women in the Armed Forces are facing. The effects of masculinity are
complex; on the one hand it is one of the attractions of the military profession,
on the other hand it is the mechanism responsible for the in- or exclusion of
groups and individuals. Masculine individuals (males and females) are included,
feminine personnel (softies, wimps) is excluded. Probably there are more complexities
involved, therefore the working of the mechanism should be studied in
order to finally come to policy recommendations.