Army criticised for misusing ‘language of female empowerment’

'Another case of everyday militarism, with the army seeing young women as a vulnerable group who they can target.’

A teenage Friend has criticised the UK army for misusing the language of female empowerment to target pro-military messages at girls and young women.

The army has been advertising three of its online gatherings as ‘inspirational, empowering female discussion events’.Quaker Anya Nanning Ramamurthy joined other Peace Pledge Union (PPU) campaigners in arguing that this was ‘patronising’, ‘insulting’ and ‘misleading’. The events run by the fourth infantry brigade are aimed at fourteen- to sixteen-year-old girls and, later, women in their late teens and early twenties. ‘I’m appalled that the army is claiming to empower women. The army is not a space where anyone is empowered,’ said the nineteen-year-old member of Tottenham Meeting. ‘By its nature, the army is violent and abusive. You are stripped of your rights, your personality and your self. Not empowered! This is yet another case of everyday militarism, with the army seeing young women as a vulnerable group who they can target.’

Farah, seventeen, a PPU member in Essex, echoed these sentiments and highlighted research in 2006 that found that one in seven women in the British armed forces had experienced a ‘particularly upsetting’ experience of sexual bullying. ‘In 2016, a female army officer was recorded telling women joining up that they “should all be aspiring to meet the male standard”. This toxic and male-dominated environment will never be somewhere I turn to feel empowered as a young woman,’ she said.

The UK is the only country in Europe to recruit people as young as sixteen into the armed forces. Nearly thirty per cent of those enlisted in 2018 were sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds. Recruits are also more likely to come from poorer backgrounds, such as on the edges of cities in the north of England, according to the Child Rights International Network (CRIN). A commanding officer at the Harrogate college, where new recruits are trained, told The Guardian last year that many came from troubled backgrounds. ‘A third of the college are what you’d describe as really disadvantaged, excluded from school, behavioural issues, perhaps brought up by grandparents,’ he said.

The army was criticised in 2019 for its ‘Snowflake’ campaign aimed at reversing the long trend of falling recruits. The campaign controversially targeted ‘snowflakes’, ‘selfie addicts’ and ‘phone zombies’ which helped the military hit its annual target for recruits for the first time in six years. In 2020 it also relaxed its recruitment criteria, making it easier for overweight or unfit people or those with asthma and eczema to join.

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