How Lebanese Women Bolstered Their Presence In The Army Over The Years

How Lebanese Women Bolstered Their Presence In The Army Over The Years
BBC/Eloise Alanna | Lebanese Army

In recent years, the Lebanese woman’s opportunities in her country’s military institution have grown considerably, with the dream of reaching the frontline getting closer to materialization than ever.

Lebanon’s First Female Soldiers

The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) has had a female presence for many years now.

By the later stage of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), Lebanese women’s voices had grown louder than ever in calling for their right to join the military.

Lebanese female soldiers performing a military march in the '90s.
Lebanese female soldiers performing a military march in the ’90s.
Source: Lebanese Army

By the time the devastating 15-year war ended in 1990, the Lebanese Army had lost a lot of blood, even getting close to collapsing entirely in 1984 when many Muslim, Druze, and Christian soldiers defected to militias fighting in the war.

Seeing that the conflict had left a massive gap wide open in its ranks on one hand, and the eagerness of many women to fill these gaps on the other, the Army decided to put the pieces together.

On September 8th, 1989, the Lebanese cabinet issued ministerial resolution number 376.

The decision contained items related to the enrollment of women in the LAF, in line with gender equality and women’s rights, not to mention the Defense Law that gives every Lebanese citizen the right to vote.

The resolution represented the first step toward introducing female recruits into the Lebanese military, and it was followed by a service memorandum issued by the LAF Command soon afterward.

The memorandum specified the enrollment rules of Lebanese women in the Army and was approved on January 1st, 1990.

8 days later, on January 9th, the Army Command issued another service memorandum, inviting Lebanese women to join the LAF as privates for the Air Force, Naval Forces, the Military Academy, the Military Police, the Logistic Brigade, in addition to the Signal Regiment and the Republican Guard Regiment.

According to a ministerial resolution issued in October 1991, the percentage of women volunteers in the Defense Ministry’s various departments was set at 10% of the total number of soldiers in the LAF.

Women were assigned various roles and positions in the LAF, all except for direct combat and combat support roles, despite the fact that women would undergo the same training as their male counterparts, with a few variations.

The first specialized officer course to include women kicked off in 1992. From then on, women took on diverse and increasing roles in the LAF, including various technical, medical, and administrative positions.

Bolstering the Female Role

Although combat roles in the LAF are still mainly reserved for male soldiers today, things have changed drastically in recent times, in part thanks to LAF Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun, who is known for his strong advocacy of the reinforcement of the female presence in the Army.

In 2019, Lebanon had around 4,000 active female soldiers. About 3,000 of them enrolled under the leadership of Gen. Aoun, who has emphasized “the priority of enhancing the woman’s role and getting her to combat roles in the future.”

Today, the Military Academy is more accessible to women than ever.

For instance, relatively speaking, women only recently became able to enroll in regular, 3-year military training courses in Lebanon.

In recent years, the Lebanese woman's opportunities in the Lebanese Army have grown considerably.
Source: Lebanese Army

According to a report by Al-Liwaa newspaper in 2019, this became possible after the Military Academy became equipped to allow females to undergo prolonged training, just like their male counterparts.

While there is still a lot of work ahead of the LAF to secure the logistics required for female soldiers to be able to, for instance, regularly serve in military bases and barracks, the Army’s plans are not short on developing these areas.

A recent breakthrough for women in the Lebanese Army was led by 1st Lieutenant Chantal Kallas and 1st Lieutenant Rita Zaher, Lebanon’s first women pilots in the Lebanese Air Force.

1st Lt. Zaher told the BBC in 2019 that she had met resistance and social pressure when she decided to join the Army, with 1st Lt. Kallas making a similar statement.

“In my opinion, a woman has to overcome all of the challenges with her family or society to realize her ambition,” Kallas said.

Indeed, facing and overcoming numerous challenges throughout their journey with the Lebanese military institution is what got female military personnel to where they are today. Current and future challenges are part of the fight to open up new frontiers.

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