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Women in the armed forces: the glass ceiling still exists

Maryvonne Blondin (France, SOC) presented an outline this morning of her report on “Guaranteeing equal rights and protecting women against violence in the armed forces”, describing her first fact-finding visit to Norway on 22 and 23 October 2015, at a hearing on the subject.

“Norway is one of the pace-setters where it comes to effective policies to promote participation by women in the armed forces. Some 17% of total staff are women (and 10% of military staff) and a whole series of measures have been taken to encourage them both to join and to pursue a career in the armed forces that takes account of the need to reconcile work and private life. However, even though outstanding progress has been made, the glass ceiling is still there”.

The journalist Julia Pascual, who is the author of the book “La guerre invisible” (The Invisible War), highlighted the fact that the French Army was one of the most “feminised” forces in Europe, with women accounting for some 15% of staff. However, a cultural of silence reigned in the army barracks, reflecting a very hierarchical institution, in which women were regarded as “intruders” and still found it difficult to make their voices heard.

A real “culture shock” had occurred in France in the 1990s when the armed forces had been reorganised into a professional force in a previously entirely male-dominated environment. Women who had highlighted the abuse from which they were suffering had been considered to be jeopardising the unity of the group and undermining its esprit de corps. They had been seen as black sheep, who might sully the army’s reputation.

After it is approved by the committee at the beginning of the year, Ms Blondin’s report will be debated by the Assembly in June 2016.