Women in Israeli Army Losing Motivation to Serve in Combat Roles, Report Shows

Inadequate facilities and commanders' demeaning practices toward trainees highlight the challenges facing female combat soldiers in Israel

A female Israeli soldier takes part in a Krav Maga training at a military base in the Golan Heights, March, 2017.
NIR ELIAS/REUTERS

Women’s motivation to take on combat roles is dropping, an Israeli army report has found.

Reasons for the change include a lack of facilities and commanders’ demeaning practices toward the trainees.

The report, compiled by Israel Defense Forces Ombudsman Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Brick from complaints his office received in 2016, also shows that commanders are struggling to comply with regulations designed to help women integrate into combat roles.

Issues highlighted in the report, which was released on Sunday, included infrastructure problems, such as inadequate facilities. Due to a lack of space, male commanders were required to enter female soldiers’ quarters to hold morning drills, while female soldiers had to use the men’s showers.

Female soldiers in the IDF's Bardalas battallon
Jack Guez/AFP

The report said that commanders involved in training mixed-gender combat units failed to fully comply with medical directives and mental health recommendations, making service harder for women. The ombudsman also noted a shortage of doctors.

Some 6,758 complains were lodged with Brick's office in 2016, 400 more than the previous year. Almost all dealt with relations between commanders and soldiers, and 58 percent were found to be justified.

Demeaning practices by commanders were reported toward both female and male soldiers, which in turn lessened their desire to serve in combat roles.

For example, one female soldier complained of repeated verbal harassment by a commander, which she said was belittling and left her humiliated in front of her comrades on a number of occasions. In some instances, soldiers were called “crybabies” for bringing up legitimate medical problems.

The issues were attributed to the fact that the commanders themselves had trained for combat and the trainer positions were a last choice for them. This created a somewhat hardened training culture unsympathetic to personal issues.

Brick said the fact that female soldiers are trained on bases that are not equipped for them harms their rights and is directly connected to hurting their motivation. This especially pertains to female soldiers, but male soldiers are also affected.

“The female combat soldiers feel they are being gauged in comparison to the skills and abilities of [regular] infantry combat units,” the report said regarding the use of ill-equipped and predominately male bases for training women.

The army plans to set up a new training base specifically for mixed-gender units.

In what seemed to be a challenge to arguments by religious and right-wing organizations against integrating women into combat roles, Brick said female combat soldiers were increasingly “taking a central place in the IDF’s field operations.”