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Gender Diversity & Inclusion in Armed Forces - Ethical Perspectives on Operational Effectiveness

By Andrea Ellner

Women’s integration into armed forces has been a bone of contention for decades. Much of the controversy had focused on their impact on operational effectiveness. Ethical considerations have been taking a back seat. This essay argues that a focus on function is counterproductive and can signify unethical leadership because it may not only undermine women’s operational effectiveness, but also increase risks to their lives. Function and ethics cannot be separated. The latter gives the former meaning, but especially in militaries the definition of functional requirements is also gendered. They have been shaped and defined by men as the dominant population.

Understanding the function-ethics nexus and addressing its genderedness are necessary prerequisites for the creation of a diverse organisation whose structures and processes enable individuals, especially in leadership positions, to bring about truly inclusive military andservice cultures. As long as women’s lived experience reinforces their otherness, because they are ‘not-male’, their position in informal power hierarchies is precarious and they are at risk of being subjected to ethically, including sexually, transgressive behaviour. 

They will continue to face multiple barriers to career progression. This undermines their potential for becoming role models and the armed forces’ ability to signal their commitment to diversity and inclusion at every level including the senior leadership. The essay argues that this matters for the military as an organisation, but also its conduct on operations. NATO and its member states have committed to implementing gender perspectives in and on operations.Service members are unlikely to suddenly be able to do this, if they have not practiced ethical and gender-inclusive behaviours in their daily professional lives.

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