THE BRITISH ARMY has been accused of misusing feminist language to target misleading pro-military messages at girls and young women online.

A series of online events on ‘female leadership’ run by the 4th Infantry Brigade, known as the Black Rats, began on 16 February. The first was aimed at 14-16-year-old girls, followed by an event for women in business, concluding with an event for young women aged from 17 to 24 on 23 February. The events were promoted on social media as “three INSPIRATIONAL, EMPOWERING, FEMALE discussion events”.

Young women in the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), Britain’s leading pacifist campaign group, accused the army of patronising and insulting young women by giving a misleading image of the nature of armed force. They said that militarism cannot be feminist, and unquestioning obedience is not empowering.

The PPU says the army appears to have taken advantage of the fact that most young people are not in school, by organising the Zoom events in the middle of the day. The PPU said that military events of this sort may persuade small numbers of people to join the armed forces, but that they could recruit a much higher number to a militarist mindset.

Anya Nanning Ramamurthy, aged 19, a PPU member in London, said: “I’m appalled that the army is claiming to empower women. The army is not a space where anyone is empowered. By its nature, the army is violent and abusive. You are stripped of your rights, your personality and your self. Not empowered! This is yet another case of everyday militarism, with the army seeing young women as a vulnerable group who they can target.”

Farah, 17, a PPU member in Essex, said: “Research found that one in seven women in the British armed forces had experienced a ‘particularly upsetting’ experience of sexual bullying. In 2016, a female army officer was recorded telling women joining up that they ‘should all be aspiring to meet the male standard’. This toxic and male-dominated environment will never be somewhere I turn to feel empowered as a young woman.”

Aileen Charteris, a PPU member who is the mother of a 15-year-old girl, said: “If the army were to start grooming my teenage daughter during a pandemic with the false idea that she can be treated as an equal in a highly sexist institution, I would be extremely worried. Young people are being bombarded with the narrative that they will struggle to find work in the coming years. We need to focus on their confidence, let them know that they can still achieve their dreams despite the pandemic. Luring them into signing their lives away under false pretences is vile.”

In 2019, the Wigston Report, commissioned by the Ministry of Defence, found high levels of sexist, racist and homophobic bullying in all three branches of the armed forces.

The UK is the only country in Europe to recruit people as young as 16 into the armed forces.

* Source: Peace Pledge Union