Can women lead an army?
Can women lead an army?
January 19, 2023

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Germany’s defence minister Christine Lambrecht has finally resigned ending a controversial 13-month.

Lambrecht’s resignation comes as Germany continues to be under European pressure to provide Ukraine with its advanced leopard two tanks, but Chancellor Olaf Schulz has refused to deliver “alone”.

Despite Schulz having said he has a successor in mind, the chancellor has other criteria to meet: He had earlier committed to having an equal number of male and female ministers in the cabinet. 

By that logic, Lambrecht would have to be replaced by a woman only. The hunt is still on; A vacancy in the defence Ministry for days is the last thing Schulz would want now, particularly with a slew of meetings lined up with western allies on the issue of Ukraine.

So what led to Lambrecht’s political failure?

Analysts say this has been due to her lack of knowledge about the military and her style of leadership.

The most immediate reason, however, is from New Year’s day when she posted a rather awkward video surrounded by fireworks. She seemingly mixed up the Ukraine war with pleasant personal encounters.

Lambrecht recorded this video informally on a mobile phone on the streets of Berlin, she was criticized for her “tone-deaf message”.

Since she was picked as a defence minister in December 2021, many were sceptical about Lambert’s competency. Reportedly, in one of her first public interactions, she admitted to even botching up the sequence of military ranks.

Germany decided to not participate actively in the Russian-Ukrain war, then in an almost token gesture, Berlin offered to supply around 5000 helmets to Ukraine forces. 

Lambrecht and Schulz both were slammed for this by Kyiv, at a time when their European counterparts did much more.

Foto: dpa/Philipp Schulze

Further, in May 2022 she came under fire for allowing her son to accompany her on a government helicopter on their way to a family vacation.

Moreover, she failed to implement an increase in military spending as pledged by Chancellor Schulz, despite the creation of a 100 billion Euro investment fund for the German Armed Forces.

And a lack of progress was evident; During a military exercise last month to prepare for inclusion in NATO’s “High Readiness response force”, all 18 of the modern German tanks broke down.

The tanks, a key weapon for the German Army, suffered a lot of malfunctions, from electronic failures to direct defects.

Lambrecht did hold an emergency meeting on the situation but was called out soon enough for not being in sync with the forces’ requirements.

This failure has raised the question: Can women lead an army?

This question is highly relevant now that war drums resonate louder.

Women have served in the military in many different roles in various jurisdictions throughout history.

Women in many countries are no longer excluded from some types of combat missions such as piloting, mechanics, and infantry officer. Since 1914, in western militaries, women have served in greater numbers and more diverse roles than before.

In the 1970s, most Western armies began allowing women to serve in active duty in all military branches. In 2006, eight countries (China, Eritrea, Israel, Libya, Malaysia, North Korea, Peru, and Taiwan) conscripted women into military service.  

In 2013, Norway became the first NATO country to draft women, as well as the first country in the world to conscript women on the same formal terms as men. In 2017, neighbouring Sweden followed suit and in 2018, the Netherlands joined this line-up (although in the Netherlands there is no active peacetime conscription).

As of 2022, only three countries conscripted women and men on the same formal conditions: Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands. A few other countries have laws allowing for the conscription of women into their armed forces, however with some differences such as service exemptions, length of service, and more.

A 2015 Marine Corps study found that women in a unit created to assess female combat performance were significantly injured twice as often as men, less accurate with infantry weapons and not as good at removing wounded troops from the battlefield.

The study assessed a nine-month experiment at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and Twentynine Palms, California. About 400 Marines, including 100 women, volunteered to participate.

Male squads, teams, and crews demonstrated better performance on 93 of 134 tasks evaluated (69%) than units with women in them. Male units were faster while completing tactical movements in combat situations, especially in units with large “crew-served” weapons such as heavy machine guns and mortars.

Male infantry squads had better accuracy than squads with women in them, with “a notable difference between genders for every individual weapons system” used by infantry rifleman units. The M4 carbine, M27 infantry automatic rifle and M203 single-shot grenade launcher were assessed.

Male Marines who had not received infantry training were more accurate than women who had. In removing wounded troops from the battlefield, “notable differences in execution times were found between all-male and gender-integrated groups”.

Unit cohesion was lower in mixed-gender units. Many female soldiers reported that the way that they are viewed by male soldiers is often detrimental to their participation. For instance, female soldiers are often labelled as “either standoffish or a slut”.

To avoid such labels, female soldiers have to spend time with fellow soldiers strategically, without spending too much time with any one of them. This approach often has an isolating effect.

 In several instances, women were considered less skilled than male soldiers, so were not given opportunities to complete tasks for which they were qualified.

According to Lieutenant colonel Dave Grossman, author of On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, Israeli soldiers reacted with uncontrollable protectiveness and aggression after seeing a woman wounded. Further, Islamic militants rarely, if ever, surrender to female soldiers, lessening the IDF’s ability to take prisoners. 

Iraqi and Afghan civilians are often not intimidated by female soldiers. However, in socially conservative environments, female combat soldiers can search female civilians, while children and women are more likely to talk to female soldiers than to male soldiers.

There have been several women who have served as defence ministers in various countries throughout the world. Some examples include:

  • In the United Kingdom, Anne-Marie Trevelyan was appointed as the Defence Secretary in 2019, becoming the first woman to hold that position.
  • In India, Nirmala Sitharaman was the first full-time woman Defence Minister of India, she served the role from 2017 to 2021.
  • In Chile, Michelle Bachelet, from 2002 to 2004, became the first woman to hold this post in a Latin American country and one of the few in the world.

These are just a few examples, many other women have served as defence ministers in other countries around the world.

NameImageCountryMandate startMandate endTerm length
Sirimavo BandaranaikeSirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranayaka (1916-2000) (Hon.Sirimavo Bandaranaike with Hon.Lalith Athulathmudali Crop).jpg Ceylon/ Sri Lanka21 July 196025 March 19654 years, 247 days
29 May 197023 July 19777 years, 55 days
Indira GandhiIndira Gandhi 1977.jpg India30 November 197520 December 197520 days
14 January 198015 January 19822 years, 1 day
Dame Eugenia CharlesEugenia Charles.jpg Dominica198519905 years, 0 days
Benazir BhuttoBenazir Bhutto.jpg Pakistan4 December 19886 August 19901 year, 245 days
Violeta ChamorroVioleta Chamorro 1993.jpg Nicaragua25 April 199010 January 19976 years, 260 days
Elisabeth RehnElisabeth Rehn 1993.jpg Finland13 June 19901 January 19954 years, 202 days
Khaleda ZiaKhaleda Zia.jpg Bangladesh27 February 199130 March 19965 years, 32 days
1 October 200129 October 20065 years, 28 days
Kim CampbellKim Campbell.jpg Canada4 January 199325 June 1993172 days
Chandrika KumaratungaChandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.jpg Sri Lanka14 November 199412 December 20017 years, 28 days
Anneli TainaAnneli Taina 1998.jpg Finland13 April 199515 April 19994 years, 2 days
Sheikh HasinaSheikh Hasina, Honourable Prime Minister of Bangladesh (cropped).jpg Bangladesh12 June 199615 July 20015 years, 33 days
6 January 2009Incumbent14 years, 12 days
Laura Chinchilla MirandaLaura Chinchilla Miranda with Hillary Rodham Clinton (cropped).jpg Costa Rica[nb 1]12 November 19968 May 19981 year, 175 days
30 March 200814 April 200815 days
Regina IpRegina Ip at VP New Year Fair 2009 cut.jpg Hong Kong31 August 199825 July 20034 years, 328 days
Eldbjørg LøwerEldbjorg Lower.jpg Norway15 March 199910 March 2000361 days
Joice Mujuru Zimbabwe8 June 20018 August 200161 days
Kristin Krohn DevoldKristin Krohn Devold.jpg Norway19 October 200117 October 20053 years, 363 days
Michelle BacheletPortrait Michelle Bachelet.jpg Chile7 January 20021 October 20042 years, 268 days
Cynthia PrattNo image.svg Bahamas7 May 20024 May 20074 years, 362 days
Michèle Alliot-MarieMichèle Alliot-Marie - Université d'été du MEDEF 2009.jpg France7 May 200218 May 20075 years, 11 days
Željka Antunović20 obljetnica osnivanja OS RH Zeljka Antunovic 26052011.jpg Croatia30 July 200223 December 20031 year, 146 days
Marta Lucía RamírezMarta Lucía Ramírez, 2012.jpg Colombia7 August 20029 November 20031 year, 94 days
Lena Hjelm-WallénNo image.svg Sweden30 September 200222 October 200222 days
Mame Madior BoyeNo image.svg Senegal2 October 20024 November 200233 days
Leni BjörklundLeni Björklund.jpg Sweden4 November 20026 October 20063 years, 336 days
Sylvia FloresNo image.svg Belize5 March 20035 January 2004306 days
Filomena Mascarenhas TipoteNo image.svg Guinea-Bissau23 April 200312 May 20041 year, 19 days
Gloria Macapagal ArroyoGloria Macapagal Arroyo WEF 2009-crop.jpg Philippines1 September 20032 October 200331 days
30 November 20061 February 200763 days
Azucena BerruttiAzberruti.jpg Uruguay1 March 20053 March 20083 years, 2 days
Anne-Grete Strøm-ErichsenAnne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen at the Pentagon (cropped).JPG Norway17 October 200520 October 20094 years, 3 days
21 September 201216 October 20131 year, 25 days
Nilda GarréNilda Garré 2011.jpg Argentina28 November 200515 December 20105 years, 17 days
Solvita ĀboltiņaSolvita Āboltiņa 2011.jpg Latvia23 December 20055 January 200613 days
Linda Abu MeriFlickr - Saeima - 9.Saeimas deputāte Linda Mūrniece.jpg Latvia5 January 20067 April 200692 days
Cristina Fontes LimaNo image.svg Cape Verde8 March 200621 March 20115 years, 13 days
Vivianne BlanlotVivianne Blanlot.jpeg Chile11 March 200627 March 20071 year, 16 days
Portia Simpson-MillerPortia Miller Shoot.Jpeg Jamaica30 March 200611 September 20071 year, 165 days
5 January 20123 March 20164 years, 58 days
Valgerður SverrisdóttirValgerdur Sverisdottir, Islands samarbets- och naringsminister.jpg Iceland[nb 2]15 June 200624 May 2007343 days
Vlasta ParkanováVlasta Parkanova.jpg Czech Republic9 January 20078 May 20092 years, 119 days
Guadalupe LarrivaBusto de Guadalupe Larriva 2.JPG Ecuador15 January 200724 January 20079 days
Lorena EscuderoLa Secretaria Nacional del Migrante, Lorena Escudero, acudió a la Comisión de Soberanía, Integración, Relaciones Internacionales y Seguridad Integral, para explicar el contenido y beneficios del (5355123962) (cropped).jpg Ecuador2 February 200730 August 2007209 days
Ruth Tapia RoaNo image.svg Nicaragua16 May 200714 May 20124 years, 364 days
Ingibjörg Sólrún GísladóttirIslands utrikesminister Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir vid Nordiska Radets session i Oslo. 2007-10-31. Foto- Magnus Iceland[nb 2]24 May 20071 February 20091 year, 253 days
Yuriko KoikeYuriko Koike - World Economic Forum on the Middle East 2008.jpg Japan4 July 200727 August 200754 days
Cécile Manorohanta Madagascar27 October 20079 February 20091 year, 105 days
Carme ChacónCarme Chacón 2010 (cropped).jpg Spain14 April 200822 December 20113 years, 252 days
Janina del Vecchio UgaldeNo image.svg Costa Rica[nb 1]14 April 20088 May 20101 year, 177 days
Elsa Teixeira PintoElsa Pinto and Neven Mimica 2019 01 (cropped).jpg São Tomé and Príncipe22 June 200814 August 20102 years, 53 days
Ljubica JelušičJelusic Ljubica.jpg Slovenia21 November 200810 February 20123 years, 81 days
Rasa JuknevičienėRasa Juknevičienė.jpg Lithuania9 December 200813 December 20123 years, 4 days
Lindiwe SisuluLindiwe Sisulu, ABr 1200EF12909099127, detail.jpg South Africa10 May 200912 June 20123 years, 33 days
Bidhya Devi BhandariVidhya Bhandari2.JPG   Nepal25 May 20096 February 20111 year, 257 days
Angélique NgomaNo image.svg Gabon17 October 200914 January 20111 year, 89 days
Grete FaremoNorges forsvarsminister Grete Faremo vid Nordiska Radets session i Reykjavik. 2010-11-03.jpg Norway20 October 200911 November 20112 years, 22 days
Gitte Lillelund BechGitte-Lillelund-Bech 2010 03-04.jpgDenmark23 February 20103 October 20111 year, 222 days
Lesego MotsumiBotswana30 August 20107 February 2011161 days
María Cecilia ChacónBolivia6 April 201126 September 2011173 days
Iveta RadičováSlovakia28 November 20114 April 2012128 days
Milica Pejanović-ĐurišićMontenegro13 March 201228 November 20164 years, 260 days
Catharina Elmsäter-SvärdSweden29 March 201218 April 201220 days
Karin EnströmKarin Enström.jpgSweden18 April 20123 October 20142 years, 168 days
Maritza Pastora Membreño MoralesNicaragua14 May 20124 March 2013294 days
Nosiviwe Mapisa-NqakulaPanetta and Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula (cropped).jpgSouth Africa12 June 20125 August 20219 years, 54 days
María Liz García de ArnoldParaguay25 June 201215 August 20131 year, 51 days
Olusola ObadaNigeria22 June 201211 September 20131 year, 81 days
Jeanine Hennis-PlasschaertJeanine Hennis-Plasschaert 2015 (1).jpgNetherlands5 November 20123 October 20174 years, 332 days
María Fernanda EspinosaMaría Fernanda Espinosa en 2014.jpgEcuador28 November 201223 September 20141 year, 299 days
Karolína PeakeKarolína Peake.jpg Czech Republic12 December 201220 December 20128 days
Martha Elena Ruiz SevillaNo image.svg Nicaragua4 March 201319 August 20196 years, 168 days
Raychelle OmamoVisit of Raychelle Omamo, Kenyan Minister for Foreign Affairs, to the European Commission (cropped).jpg Kenya15 May 201314 January 20206 years, 244 days
Yingluck Shinawatra9153ri-Yingluck Shinawatra.jpg Thailand30 June 20137 May 2014311 days
Carmen MeléndezCarmen Melendez Teresa Rivas.jpg Venezuela5 July 201325 October 20141 year, 112 days
Mimi KodheliMimi Kodheli (cropped).jpg Albania15 September 201311 September 20173 years, 361 days
Ine Marie Eriksen SøreideSD meets with Norway’s Minister of Defence 170517-D-SV709-158 (34721980225) (cropped).jpg Norway16 October 201320 October 20174 years, 4 days
Ursula von der LeyenGermany17 December 201317 July 20195 years, 212 days
Roberta PinottiItaly22 February 20141 June 20184 years, 99 days
Cadi ManéGuinea-Bissau4 July 201413 October 20151 year, 101 days
Marie-Noëlle KoyaraCentral African Republic17 January 201529 October 2015286 days
12 September 201710 June 20213 years, 271 days
Marina PendešBosnia and Herzegovina31 March 201523 December 20194 years, 315 days
Tina KhidasheliGeorgia1 May 201530 July 20161 year, 90 days
Andreja KatičSlovenia13 May 201513 September 20183 years, 123 days
Marise PayneAustralia21 September 201526 August 20182 years, 339 days
Adiato Djaló NandignaGuinea-Bissau13 October 20152 June 2016233 days
Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir Iceland[nb 2]7 April 201611 January 2017279 days
Tomomi InadaJapan3 August 201628 July 2017359 days
María Dolores de CospedalCospedal. Mensaje de Navidad 2013 (11647905203) (cropped).jpgSpain4 November 20161 June 20181 year, 209 days
Sylvie GoulardFrance17 May 201719 June 201733 days
Radmila ŠekerinskaNorth Macedonia1 June 201716 January 20224 years, 229 days
Florence ParlyFrance21 June 201720 May 20224 years, 333 days
Nirmala SitharamanIndia3 September 201731 May 20191 year, 270 days
Olta XhaçkaAlbania11 September 201731 December 20203 years, 111 days
Ank BijleveldAnk Bijleveld, 2019.jpgNetherlands26 October 201717 September 20213 years, 326 days
Karla ŠlechtováCzech Republic13 December 201728 June 2018197 days
Elisabetta TrentaItaly1 June 20185 September 20191 year, 96 days
Margarita RoblesMargarita Robles 2018 (cropped).jpg Spain7 June 2018Incumbent4 years, 225 days
Oppah MuchinguriNo image.svg Zimbabwe11 September 2018Incumbent4 years, 129 days
Aisha Mohammed MussaAisha Mohammed Mussa with Ministry of Foreign Affairs Indonesia.jpg Ethiopia16 October 201818 April 2019184 days
Mariya Ahmed DidiMaldives17 November 2018Incumbent4 years, 62 days
Viola AmherdViola Amherd (2018).jpgSwitzerland1 January 2019Incumbent4 years, 17 days
Rose Christiane RapondaRose Raponda 2015.pngGabon12 February 201916 July 20201 year, 155 days
Lanelle TanangadaNo image.svgSolomon Islands25 April 201910 October 2019159 days
Penny MordauntUnited Kingdom1 May 201924 July 201984 days
Linda ReynoldsAustralia29 May 201925 March 20211 year, 300 days
Trine BramsenDenmark27 June 20194 February 20222 years, 222 days
Annegret Kramp-KarrenbauerAnnegret Kramp-Karrenbauer 2016 (cropped).jpgGermany17 July 20198 December 20212 years, 144 days
Rosa Adelina Barahona CastroNicaragua21 August 2019Incumbent3 years, 150 days
Klaudia TannerAustria7 January 2020Incumbent3 years, 11 days
Monica JumaKenya14 January 202030 September 20211 year, 259 days
Zeina AkarLebanon22 January 202010 September 20211 year, 231 days
Angelina TenySouth Sudan12 March 2020Incumbent2 years, 312 days
Krishna MathoeraSuriname16 July 2020Incumbent2 years, 186 days
Ludivine DedonderBelgium1 October 2020Incumbent2 years, 109 days
Essozimna Marguerite GnakadeTogo1 October 2020[1]Incumbent2 years, 109 days
Nuria EsparchPeru18 November 202029 July 2021253 days
Olivera Injac Montenegro4 December 202028 April 20221 year, 145 days
Thandi ModiseSpotkanie premier Beaty Szydło z Thandi Modise (cropped).jpg South Africa6 August 2021Incumbent1 year, 165 days
Stergomena TaxStergomena Tax.jpg Tanzania13 September 20213 October 20221 year, 20 days
Anita AnandAnita Anand (cropped).jpg Canada26 October 2021Incumbent1 year, 84 days
Þórdís Kolbrún R. GylfadóttirÞórdís Kolbrún R. Gylfadóttir.jpg Iceland[nb 2]28 November 2021Incumbent1 year, 51 days
Christine Lambrecht2017-03-19 Lambrecht Roth SPD Parteitag by Olaf Kosinsky-3.jpg Germany8 December 202119 January 20231 year, 42 days
Jana ČernochováČernochová J 2014.JPG Czech Republic17 December 2021Incumbent1 year, 32 days
Kajsa Ollongren220107Kajsa Ollongren44 (cropped).jpgNetherlands10 January 2022Incumbent1 year, 8 days
Slavjanka PetrovskaNorth Macedonia17 January 2022Incumbent1 year, 1 day
Maya Fernández Chile11 March 2022Incumbent313 days
Helena CarreirasPortugal30 March 2022Incumbent294 days

References / Credits:

Fist Post, DW, Wikipedia.