This study will investigate the experiences of approximately 40 Canadian women Canadian Forces (CF) members who deployed ‘beyond the wire’ in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2011. This project will generate important and rare empirical data on the experiences of women deployed in combat zones – only a handful of countries allow women to serve in combat arms positions, and only three of these countries impose no restrictions on the employment of women into all military occupations. The proposed research is also important because the Afghan mission was the first combat mission in which Canadian women served on the frontline in significant numbers. There is a dearth of research examining the experiences of women in combat in Afghanistan, despite the intense interest in the topic in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States. The generation of this empirical data will better inform policy bodies and academics examining women in combat roles. Topics to be addressed in this research centre on women’s experiences in combat, as well as women’s experiences during the pre-deployment, deployment and homecoming readjustment periods. I will examine the impact of ‘the experience of war’ and combat deployment on women’s identity, and what this might tell us about gender relations and social norms within the military institution, as well as what (and who) constitute the modern warrior and war hero.
Potential Benefits of the Research
The potential benefit of this study is to shed light on the experiences of a new generation of veterans with combat exposure. While many studies have looked at male veterans, very few studies on the wartime experiences of female veterans exist. This study will produce information on the experiences of war of a new, and under-studied, generation of veterans and has the potential to provide important information for social science and health researchers, as well as service providers that could contribute to the body of research necessary in designing evidence-based policies and programs for veterans. This study will also serve to record the oral histories of the first generation of Canadian female CF members to serve in combat positions in theater.
Studying the ‘Experience of War’
There is a recent trend within the field of War Studies to expand the subject of inquiry beyond the ‘traditional’ examination of the causes, conduct, strategy, and outcomes of war to include the study of actual experience of war. My thesis reflects this trend in the field. My research will make a contribution to theorizing the ‘experience of war’ by examining the importance and relevance of experience as evidence in feminist IR research. I will provide an empirical contribution to the emerging methodology of the experience of war by exploring it from the perspective of the female soldier.