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Panel discusses women in war

Abi Hoverman | Friday, January 28, 2011

Women are a common target in war zones, said anthropology professor Carolyn R. Nordstrom, who has seen villages where every woman and child has been brutalized.

Nordstrom, who has spent years researching conditions of wars across the globe, was part of the panel “Women and War: In and Out of Uniform,” held Wednesday in the Oak Room of South Dining Hall. The discussion explored women’s role in the military and impact during wars.

Nordstrom said villages are defenseless when male residents leave to fight.

“I walk into villages where every woman and child has been raped, where all the food has been stolen,” she said.

Panelist Rear Admiral Wendi B. Carpenter, who has represented the United States in NATO forums, said in war torn areas women take on a unique role.

“If you can increase opportunities, education and stability of women, you can decrease the chance of war breaking out,” she said. “[Women can] get a hold of the men in the community and say no, we are not going to do to [go to war] anymore.”

Carpenter, the first woman in the navy to be named an admiral, said women have made advances in the military in recent decades.

“We’ve got all kinds of female firsts out there, and the good thing is we’ve got the firsts out of the way,” she said. “Now we can move on to other things.”

Professor Michael Desch, chair of the Political Science Department, said technology has played a role in increased female military participation.

“Historically, the military has been male-dominated,” he said. “Males are physically stronger and larger than women, but with [weapons] technology today, there is no longer the functional advantage of being male.”

First Lt. Casie E. Sweeney, a 2008 Notre Dame alumna, detailed her experiences in Afghanistan. As part of a new effort to improve relationships and communication between marines and Afghani civilians, Sweeney lead a female-engagement team through family compounds of farmers displaced in the war during her deployment.

“Our mission was to establish trust and confidence to ultimately help them help themselves,” she said.

Sweeney said female military members offer a unique element of trust in a culture suspicious of western men. In Afghanistan, only female marines are accepted into family compounds. This comfort with female marines helped foster cooperation with families.

“We would take our hair down and it would put them at ease,” she said.

When asked how male military members should treat their female counterparts, Sweeney insisted equality.

“Be gender blind. If you have bias, you better get rid of it,” she said.