Crossing Gender Boundaries or Challenging Masculinities? Female Combatants in the Kenya Defence Forces’ (KDF) War against Al-Shabaab Militants
Keywords:Military, Women Combatants, War, Femininity, Masculinity
Few institutions have historically presented more defined gender boundaries than the military. This study examines gender and war through the lens of military combat roles. Military combat roles have traditionally relied on and manipulated ideas about masculinity and femininity. Women arrive in the army with different types of capital and bring with them a shared cultural ‘tool kit’ (womanhood). Following the military’s labour allocation process, they are assigned combat roles, which is at variance to their gendered character. Assignment in non-traditional feminine roles means crossing gender boundaries. Ethnographic studies of the Kenya Defence Forces operations in Somalia reveal the different gendered characteristics of the military roles as reflected in the women’s soldiery experiences. The encounter with military power and authority challenges the women soldiers to redefine their feminine capital, to interpret the military reality via a gendered lens and, therefore, to critically (re)examine the patriarchal order. Grounded on the twin theoretical frameworks of socio-cultural capitals and cultural scripts, and structured on a gender framing of women’s military roles, the study illustrates the complex and contradictory realities of women in the army. The study unpacks the relationship between masculinity and femininity, and, war and the military. It underpins the value of the female soldier as a figurative illustration of the complex interrelations between the gendered politics of masculinity and femininity. It considers what the acts, practices and performances constitutive of female soldiering reveal about particular modes of governance, regulation and politics that arise from the sacrifices of soldiers in combatant.
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