To be ‘female’ in the Defence Forces is to be considered an object rather than a full human being. As an object, ‘it’ has no human rights and deserves no respect or equality, but is to be tolerated because the Defence Forces is required to ‘let women in’.
The Defence Forces “is unable or unwilling to make the changes that are needed to provide a safe working environment that affords dignity and respect to members”.
Some senior officers groom younger members, with some requesting sexual favours. Female members regularly had their drinks spiked and sexual attacks, up to and including rape, are an issue across the Defence Forces.
When allegations were formally made, which was rare, the subsequent investigations continued for so long the complainants were left with no choice but to buy their way out of their contracts as their attackers were at times promoted.
The reality of modern Irish workplaces and attitudes among younger people around gender roles, family and work appear to be unfamiliar to many in the Defence Forces, with the absence of concepts such as consent, respect and the like.
The Defence Forces “barely tolerates women and, at its worst, verbally, physically, sexually and psychologically abuses women in its ranks”. Furthermore, “gender schema are designed to restrict, reject and punish them for being women”.
The prevailing workplace culture is one that is disabling when it comes to supporting dignity and respect in the workplace to the extent suicides were classified as accidental deaths.
The Defence Forces struggle with gender, displaying hypermasculinities and pockets of deeply misogynistic attitudes and behaviours.
So-called ‘soft skills’ are not valued or considered relevant. Physical skills - such as running fast and being able to carry a heavy weight - are considered the most important basis of assessment, with intellectual capabilities rated as much less important. Flexibility and alternative thinking are suspect.
Operating in a family-unfriendly way, such as not facilitating breastfeeding, not allowing people time off to be with a child in hospital for an operation, or engaging in other forms of working-time rigidity in order to hold power over others because they had the authority.
The Defence Forces is a “workplace where self-worth and value are negated and disrespect is a dominant feature in an organisation resistant to change” within a “lack of trust of leadership” and those who are charged with investigating complaints.
Women in the Defence Forces were sidelined for career advancement because they would have children, undermining their ability to commit to their careers. Others were targeted for retaliation after having a child.
* If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can contact Rape Crisis Helpline (1800-778888) or the Samaritans (116123 or firstname.lastname@example.org)