Women in a Male Dominated Environment – Women in the Armed Forces
by Katerina Markoullidou, President of N-COACA, Cyprus
It appears that, throughout the years, women gain a stronger status in male-dominated environments, despite all the gender-related difficulties they have to deal with. Moreover, they claim work positions on equal terms with men, posts that men exclusively held in the past, especially in the armed forces, administration and in politics.
Working in a male-dominated environment can be challenging for a woman, as she has to prove her professional skills by being as effective as men are, sometimes under extremely difficult circumstances.
Working conditions in the armed forces, particularly during basic training and exercises, can be tough for women compared to non–military working conditions, but everything is a matter of habit, adjustment and planning.
The recruitment of the first women in the Cyprus National Guard (Armed Forces of the Republic of Cyprus) took place in April 1990 and they were granted the status of “Women Volunteer Non-Commissioned Officers”.
I was lucky to be one of the first 125 women being recruited in the National Guard of the Republic of Cyprus. Our basic training took place in Greece and our appointment to the National Guard was in terms of a 3-year contract, subject to renewal according to the relevant regulations. After serving for 6 years as volunteer female Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs), we were granted the right to become permanent NCOs of Cyprus National Guard.
Training of female military personnel in the National Guard is the same as the training of male military personnel. Men and women in the National Guard hold equal perspectives of advancement. However, due to the absence of women in the armed forces of the Republic of Cyprus before 1990, all high-ranking positions are exclusively occupied by male officers. Female officers are military doctors and military medical personnel. Only a very few female officers are graduates of Military Schools. The female officers and NCOs currently serving in the Cyprus National Guard on active duty represent 15% of the professional personnel.
Due to military tasks, such as the 24-hour night service, military exercises and yearly transfers, women in the armed forces face difficulties in having a normal family life, also due to the role of women as mothers.
Due to the absence of women in the armed forces before 1990, the participation of women in military decision–making centers, as well as in other male-dominated occupations, is almost nonexistent
Despite the knowledge and skills women have, they still have not obtained what they are entitled to and still have not yet made it up to the very top in professional terms, but their progress is taking place gradually.
In the early years of women presence in the Cyprus National Guard, there were many difficulties which decreased slowly throughout the past years. Due to the fact that until recently the military in Cyprus was considered as an exclusive male occupation, all military personnel equipment like uniforms or military boots are male–oriented. However, with women joining the armed forces things have changed.
On March 2008, male and female military personnel gained the right to establish two professional associations for officers and NCOs on active duty, according to a relevant law approved by the Parliament of the Republic of Cyprus. The establishment of the two associations aimed at improving the working conditions of military personnel to resolve their problems.
I was one of the 21 founding members of the Non-Commissioned Officers Association of Cyprus Army (N-COACA). With the first elections organized by N-COACA, I was elected Secretary General of the association with a majority of votes. On the second elections, I was elected President despite the fact that we only have about 20% of female members in the association. I must nevertheless admit that it was not hard to be accepted as President in a male–dominated association due to my female nature. On the contrary, many male colleagues think that a woman can be more effective for the benefit of all members of the association due to the fact that women are proven to be more methodical and meticulous than men. However, a group of male colleagues is still cautious and suspicious towards female personnel. Thus, women must always continue to prove themselves through hard, effective and efficient work.
Even nowadays women in general still face sex discrimination, although at a lower level. We still have a long way to equality, but it is safe to say that there has been important progress in this matter. I think that people deserve equal chances in life regardless of gender.