4.8 Women

Because so few states require obligatory military service of women, in most of the world the issue of conscientious objection only arises for them in the context of volunteers who subsequently develop a conscientious objection and apply for release; certainly some such cases in the USA have involved women - indeed as of November 2005, at least one ongoing case does.[1]

In Israel, where there was no legal recognition of conscientious objection for men, Article 39c of the National Defence Service Law (1986) states: A female person of military age who has proved, in such manner and to such authority as shall be prescribed by regulations, that reasons of conscience or reasons connected with her family's religious way of life prevent her from serving in defence service, shall be exempt from the duty of that service. There is thus an explicit possibility of granting exemption on reasons of conscience alone, although the wording and even more so the reported practical application of this provision is weighted heavily towards family obligations and a strict traditional religious observance, further elaborated in Article 40: ...

  1. reasons of religious conviction prevent her from serving in the defence service and
  2. she observes the dietary laws at home and away from home and
  3. she does not ride on the Sabbath.

The context of these very specific provisions is of course that only Jewish women are subject to conscription in the first instance.[2]

In recent years, women with various individual standpoints which might generally be classified as anti-militarist have become increasingly frustrated by the relative ease of obtaining exemption when they wished to take a stand on principle, and recently a number have put in explicit claims for exemption on pacifist or similar grounds. The first imprisonment of a female conscientious objector took place in November 2003; since then there have been several further cases. Meanwhile the Supreme Court in August 2004 backed a narrow interpretation of the relevant articles.

In Eritrea there was considerable resistance to female recruitment from Muslim communities, especially among the Afar of Dankalia region on the Red Sea coast. Resistance on the grounds of religious belief, cultural traditions of family honour, or protecting women from sexual harassment and violence in the army, sometimes led to violent confrontations during conscription round-ups.[3] Later reports indicate that attempts to conscript women in this region have been abandoned.[4] Although this certainly represents an objection on grounds based in religion and belief, and is noteworthy as the major instance recorded of a resistance to military recruitment based principally on Islamic teaching, it stretches the definition of conscientious objection as such, revealing rather a remarkably close parallel to the wider grounds of religious tradition and way of life included in the Israeli legislation.

  • [1] War Resisters International, USA: Women soldier refuses deployment to Iraq in Conscientious Objection Update Number 16, December 2005
  • [2] War Resisters International, Conscientious objection in Israel: an unrecognised human right, February 2003.
  • [3] Amnesty International (2004), Eritrea: You have no right to ask, Section 5.
  • [4] Amnesty International (2006), Eritrea: Religious persecution