In promoting freedom and equality, democratic countries throughout the world have been recruiting and admitting women into their armed forces. By opening the doors of a highly patriarchal institution to women, governments are said to be upholding gender equity and equality. However, the enlistment of women in the armed forces remains a heated subject of debate and controversy, given that women, across sectors and ranks in the military, continue to experience institutional-based discrimination.
The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) defines discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, or restriction on the basis of sex which has an effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women irrespective of their marital status on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedom in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any field” (UN General Assembly, 1979). The CEDAW has helped the inclusion of women into the military but not their integration.
Like many other institutions and organizations, the Armed Forces have policies and practices that produce differential and/or harmful effects on the minority while favoring the majority or the dominant group (Pincus, 1994; Pincus, 2000). Following the claims of Krosnell (2005) and Prividera & Howard (2012), the Armed Forces as a male-governed institution have produced and recreated norms and practices that discriminate against women.
First, in the recruitment of Armed Forces personnel, there exists a policy that limits the number of women to be accepted. In the Philippines, for example, the regular recruitment for the armed forces as a whole restricts the number of female cadets at not more than 20% (reference). The number is even lower at the Philippine Military Academy—more than 5% of the total entrants (reference). The figures are indeed low, which shows that women are largely underrepresented in the military.
Aside from quota restrictions, some women hesitate to proceed with the recruitment process, because the ways in which medical exams are conducted are not women-friendly. Based on a research of Alcala (2012) among Muslim women in the Philippine Army and Police, it was observed that the medical exam is carried out by male medical practitioners. Since women are not informed beforehand of this institutional practice, they are likely to feel anxious and stressed when they submit to a male medical doctor for their examination. While medical examination is important and to be enforced as a standard procedure, the Armed Forces must recognize that obliging and subjecting women to undress in front of a male doctor who has greater authority and power is a form of institutional prejudice and discrimination.
Second, during the training of recruits, the Armed Forces organize their activities based on the concept of masculinity—one in which there is a marked emphasis on physical activities...