Support for Integration of Women Dips in German Army

The German army (Bundeswehr) opened all combat positions to women in 2001 after Tanja Kreil won her lawsuit against Germany in the European Court of Justice. The Court found that Germany was in violation of EU Directive 76/207/EEC, which prohibits EU member states from discriminating on the basis of sex with special mention to “access to employment, promotion, vocational training and working conditions.”

Since then, Germany has conducted several surveys to measure the success of integration. The latest study found that, compared to six years ago, women report less satisfaction with military service and men report less support for integration of women into the combat arms.

According to [a 2011 survey], only 57.3 percent of women serving in the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces, say they would choose their job again. By comparison, the figure was nine percentage points higher in 2005. Additionally, only 34.6 percent said they would recommend this path to a female friend.

Of the surveyed men, 34 percent think that women aren’t suited to the “[harsh] conditions” in the field – in 2005, it was just 28 percent. Over half of the males also stated that women are not suited to physically challenging activities. And only 77 percent are convinced that men can work well together with women in the army – a drop from 83 percent. More than half of the male respondents also said that women are evaluated too positively and receive preferential treatment. Many men in the Bundeswehr feel that women should not take part in armed combat.

I sure would love some insight into why attitudes have shifted since 2005. I wonder if there’s a relationship to the Bundeswehr’s experience in Afghanistan. Germany has been the third largest troop contributor in Afghanistan since at least 2007.

In any event, German women still support integration:

Around 88 percent [of female soldiers] believe that all army sectors should be open to women – in contrast to just 62 percent of men. Among the males, 40 percent would like to see women excluded from combat operations, but only 28 percent of the women call for the same thing.

Sexual harassment continues to be reported at very high levels.

A big gap could be observed in the answers to questions concerning sexual harassment in the workplace. Every second female officer claimed to have experienced it, whether in the form of jokes, contact with pornography or unwanted physical contact. Sexual assault and rape, however, were only reported by 3 percent of the women. The men, on the other hand, did not report having experienced any sexual harassment.

Interestingly, a German national working in the defense sector suggested to me today that this issue is facing more public scrutiny in Germany as a result of the recent publicity given to military sexual assault in the United States. So military equality advocates like the Service Women’s Action Network may be having an impact beyond national borders.


  1. Nathalie Leclercq says:

    The German Army is simply doing it wrong. I talked to a young man who had enlisted for two years. He told me that whenever they were on a march, he ended up having to carry a woman’s ruck (in addition to his own) because the woman was “too weak”. In other words, the female recruits don’t have to meet the same standards of physical fitness as the males. No wonder there’s discontent and resentment!

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