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Rethinking Military Training: Perspectives from the Field

It comes as no surprise that the pervasiveness of the masculinized military culture remains one of the most entrenched and challenging discriminatory barriers affecting the meaningful participation of women in service today.

It comes as no surprise that the pervasiveness of the masculinized military culture remains one of the most entrenched and challenging discriminatory barriers affecting the meaningful participation of women in service today. The vigor of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda has produced multiple initiatives and interventions intending to transform the rigidity and adherence to tradition which is present within military institutions globally.

As students in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs program at the University of British Columbia, our final capstone project facilitated the opportunity to conduct field research in Ghana in November of 2022. The intent of this research was to engage with WPS and human security stakeholders to examine the interplay between the two security approaches. Our research team conducted 53 interviews over the span of two months, during this time interviewees shared an abundance of meaningful insights. Themes drew parallel across interviews as many spoke to the existing challenges of the WPS agenda - highlighting key areas for reform to target the barriers of entry for women in service. The lessons-learned shared by those working in military, government, academic and civil society spaces have emphasized opportunities for further refinement in the establishment of sectoral-wide interventions for the achievement of gender parity in the military.

The pervasiveness of inequality present within the culture and practices of the military cannot be addressed linearly. The solutions and areas of opportunity below were the most frequently cited among participants as strategies to consider when addressing these barriers. Interviewees mentioned that the determinants of change are likely to ensue as the result of intergenerational change and responsive military training.

  1. Tailoring military training towards trainees

For the intended military training to be effective, it is crucial that the content of such be catered or suited to the audience members for whom knowledge is meant to impart. With regards to military training, it would be advantageous to ensure that programs are designed and delivered with the audience in mind; content should be both comprehensive and relatable. The first consideration of this point is to ensure that key terms and fundamental principles of the training are given the time and attention they deserve in being thoroughly explained. Program developers and instructors may be attuned to the buzzwords of the time, however, persons who do not regularly engage with these topics will require a deeper level of explanation. What may be known as common terms to some will vary, especially when considering the age, culture, language, and gender difference between trainees. One interviewee, an instructor responsible for the delivery of a gender-based military training program for UN peacekeepers, shared her concern regarding the level of comprehension that trainees departed training with. She provided the example of a soldier who asked for clarification of the term ‘gender’ in the final hour of the certificated program. The second consideration is that the material being taught to peacekeepers needs to be culturally and personally attuned to the receiving audience. The same instructor explained that many military trainees provided frequent feedback that they had difficulty understanding how the larger WPS agenda applied to their country, military, division, or rank. Training of this caliber should not be delivered with a ‘one-size fits all’ approach, content needs to be relatable to the trainee for the key lessons to be wholly understood and applied in practice. The training curriculum should be grounded in relevant contextual examples that allow trainees to firmly grasp the importance of what is being taught and the greater value in its implementation.

  1. Mutual learning across military networks

Over the years, groundbreaking strategies, such as the Elsie Initiative, have set the bar to increase women’s participation in the armed forces and police in peace operations. However, some women are still limited to administrative or non-combatant roles. They are not given the opportunity to hold leadership positions or rise as high in rank as their male counterparts. There is the need to create more spaces where women are not only permitted, but expected, to assume leadership roles without the simultaneous entrenchment within a deeply rooted masculine and patriarchal culture. A step towards achieving this can be fostered with the promotion of international military networks. The opportunity for diverse states and members of armed forces to learn from one and other and observe women successfully serving in these military positions should be a necessary component of all gender-based military training. For training to yield successful outcomes it needs to be developed with attention to the mechanisms by which knowledge is imparted, which includes both direct and indirect teachings.

  1. The value of feedback and military training evaluation

The strategy for improving military training quality and efficiency should not be limited to the assessment of trainees but rather should optimize and prioritize the flow of consistent internal feedback and assessment. In the facilitation of military training, little attention is usually directed towards the evaluation of training courses for the purpose of modification and improvement. During field research, an interviewee highlighted that the dearth in feedback post-training prevented internal knowledge-sharing and stifled the overall quality and impact of training courses. This interviewee commented that the avenues for trainers to provide feedback on the efficacy of training occurred in silos. For instance, discussions had indicated that trainers believed that gender-based training courses needed to span over a longer duration of time to assist participants with engaging more meaningfully with the content, as well as increasing their comprehension of fundamental concepts. Constructive feedback should be immediately addressed and integrated into subsequent courses to improve trainees’ experience with the course material, else military training becomes a mere formality and transformative potential squandered. It is also critical for trainers to receive feedback consistently to ensure the continuous improvement of their teaching styles and methods of delivery. Through effective circular feedback, trainers and program developers can create the necessary elements of the course structure to suit the recipients of these courses and ensure that the training yields the intended fruitful outcomes.

Moving forward, it is imperative to the WPS agenda that gender-based training for the military be viewed as more than a tokenistic practice. It is necessary that training programs be developed and structured to suit military officials, make use of the benefits of mutual learning, and ensure that swift and prompt feedback be entrenched into program delivery and design. Training alone will not be the cure-all for gender discrimination in the military, it is however a step in the right direction towards actively combatting the injustices faced by the women who serve and furthering the WPS agenda.

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