Indian engineer Rajeshwari Chatterjee helped found her nation’s first microwave research lab in 1953. Her contributions to radar and antenna technology have defense applications more than 50 years later.
Chemist Stephanie Kwolek, working for industrial chemistry giant DuPont in 1965, made a discovery that led to Kevlar, a fiber still used in body armor as well as to protect air and spacecraft.
Chinese-American physicist Chien-Shiung Wu, in her work on the Manhattan Project during World War II, helped discover a method to separate uranium for a nuclear weapon.
They represent countless female contributors to defense innovation. Women across the globe continue to build on such legacies, seizing new opportunities in disciplines that impact security and peace. Also among the contributions of women in the modern era: an increased participation in front-line defense, particularly in militaries where women earn equal wages and have the same opportunities as men.
Gender equality efforts in the Indian Armed Forces saw more than 100 women promoted to the rank of colonel in January 2023, with 50 female officers set to take on command roles in areas including air defense, engineering, intelligence and ordnance. The number of women in India’s military has tripled in recent years, reported The Financial Express newspaper in 2022. (Pictured: Female Soldiers in the Indian Army’s Corps of Military Police take aim with rifles during a demonstration in March 2021.)
In response to a shrinking population in Japan, women are increasingly joining the ranks of the Japan Self-Defense Force. Women made up about 8% of the forces’ total strength as of March 2022, Japanese news agency Nippon.com reported, up from 7% two years prior.
Record numbers of South Korean women have joined the military in the face of North Korean provocation. By 2020, women comprised close to 7% of the total forces, a jump from 5.5% two years prior.
Answering calls for bolstered defense against an increasingly menacing People’s Republic of China, women in Taiwan will begin training for the island’s military reserves in 2023. In 2021, women in Taiwan accounted for about 15% of the active-duty military.
“Women make up more than half of the world’s population …” David Benton, an advisor to the Ministry of Defense in Ukraine, said in government statements. “This means that they can bring more than half the knowledge, half the talent, half the ability, and sometimes a completely different view on solving military problems.” In Ukraine, the number of women volunteering for military service more than doubled after Russia’s 2014 occupation of eastern territories and rose again after Moscow’s full-scale invasion in 2022.
For decades, the United Nations has called for increased participation of women in security and peacekeeping around the world. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, adopted in 2020, recognizes the vital role of women in preventing and resolving conflict, peace negotiations, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction.
An International Peace Institute study published in 2015 found that peace agreements involving women were 20% more likely to last at least two years and 35% more likely to last for 15. Advocates point to the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace campaign, whose members successfully pressured negotiators to end a bloody civil war in 2003; Guatemala’s 1996 peace accords, whose female negotiators helped secure commitments to advance women’s rights; and Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement, for which women negotiators were credited with building consensus. By 2021, women participated in all peace processes co-led by the U.N., although their representation remained at only 19% among negotiators and delegates.
More than 85 nations have action plans based on the U.N.’s Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda, which provides guidance on promoting women’s participation and integrating gender perspectives in peace and security work.
The Australian Defence Force, where women accounted for 20% of total forces in 2022, has incorporated core training on supporting women’s rights and reducing violence against women in all theaters. In the United States, where implementing WPS strategy became law in 2017, trained gender advisors help advance opportunities for women in partner nations, such as during Operation Allies Welcome to help resettle Afghan evacuees.
“Our work on Women, Peace and Security is critical not just for U.S. national security but, equally importantly, for the safety, equality and opportunity of women and girls around the world,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen H. Hicks.
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