UK military organising mock training camps to get Muslim women into its ‘army of the future’ months after bombshell #MeToo inquiry

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The British Army looks to be recruiting Muslim women by conducting ‘boot camps’ to give them a taste of the military life – at a time when the armed forces have been accused of “failing to protect” female recruits from harassment.

Earlier this week, a video of the camp was broadcast on the BBC’s Asian Network. The roughly two-minute clip, which has also been shared on social media, featured three Muslim women from the city of Bradford being “put through their paces – army style” on an assault course.

The activities apparently involved using paintball guns, climbing six-foot walls, crossing trenches using ropes, and navigating obstacle courses, as well as attending what appeared to be briefing sessions. The women then spoke about the training having changed their “perception” of the army and gushed about the range of military career choices offered to them. 

The Army want more Muslims, especially women, to join the forces. As it stands only a tiny fraction of the 500 Muslims are female and now, regular activity days are being held for them get a taste of what to expect. pic.twitter.com/DTUtJA0Aop

— BBC Asian Network (@bbcasiannetwork) October 26, 2021

While Major Kate Hannaford from the Royal Artillery noted that “different people who think in different ways” were needed to build “the army of the future,” women apparently make up only a “tiny fraction” of an estimated 450-500 Muslim soldiers in the army.

A number of Muslim commenters shared some of the reasons for those low enlistment numbers, with one person calling out its “colonial history, the rampant racism [and] sexism, and the increase in hate crimes rooted within the British Army.” Others suggested that “increasing reports of rape” in the army could explain why Muslim women were not signing up “en masse.”

In July, a damning parliamentary report found that almost two-thirds of women in the armed forces were victims of bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination, and other “unacceptable behaviour” over their careers. The inquiry, which has been called the military’s #MeToo moment, surveyed over 4,000 veteran and serving female military personnel. It included accounts of gang rape, instances where sex was a condition for promotion or advancement, and contests to “bag the women” in camps or on ships.

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Some servicewomen who provided testimony in the July probe reportedly revealed how they experienced bullying for refusing sexual advances, while others said they had been too frightened to report having witnessed friends being attacked by groups of men. One woman apparently described the mess hall and military quarters as being “places of danger” – potentially more dangerous for women than war zones.

The inquiry prompted the army to launch a recruitment campaign painting it as an inclusive employer. The ‘A soldier is a soldier’ campaign touted the tagline “equal pay, equal opportunities, equal expectations” for women, who make up just 9.8% of the British Army and 14.2% of the Army Reserves.

According to official data, the average conviction rate for rape in civilian courts between 2015 and 2020 was approximately 34%, more than double the rate for rape cases in military courts, which stood at 16%. The Daily Mirror reported last week that nearly nine in 10 soldiers accused of rape and sexual assaults over a four-year period going back to 2016 were not convicted.

The paper noted that Defence Ministry figures showed just 98 of the 627 probes since 2016 resulted in guilty verdicts in military courts.

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Earlier this week, a report published in the BMJ Military Health journal reportedly found that nearly a quarter (22.5%) of the 750 women veterans surveyed had experienced sexual harassment, while a similar number (22.7%) had been subjected to emotional bullying. The researchers also discovered that 5% had been sexually assaulted and 3% were physically assaulted.

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