The military in any country has to carry out its operations with the full cooperation of women. Women participation in the military is an important aspect which should be taken seriously when it comes to personal effects. Currently the number of women withdrawing from the military is more than that of women who are enrolling in military service. This is due to several challenges facing them as military personnel. One of the challenges that face them as women is health care in the military which is inadequate for them.
In this paper the author is going to look at health care for military women. The author will critically review literature that exists in this field to achieve this. The aim is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of health care services for these women and how this can be addressed in the future.
Health Care Services for Women in Military Camps and during Missions
Lack of proper and adequate health care has a negative impact on women in the military most of who prefer to resign rather than continue serving in the military under such conditions. This affects negatively the career progression of women in the military. Women are more affected by this lack of healthcare than their male counterparts (Zeber et al., 2010).
Efforts have been made to provide quality health care services for military personnel at large. The aim is to ensure that all members of staff receive such services regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. As a matter of fact, both women and men suffer from similar illnesses but the impact of this is a bit different for the women. On the part of women, health care services ranging from clinical guidance to reproductive services are availed. These are significantly different from those provided to men (Mattocks et al., 2010).
Healthcare facilities in military camps have been faced with a lot of challenges due to increased number of women seeking medical services. The challenge is evident when a comparison is made between provision of healthcare services for men and that targeted at women. According to a study conducted by Echelon on three health care facilities, it was noted that healthcare personnel provides similar services to all troops regardless of whether they are male or female (Nielsen et al., 2009). More so, male soldiers are highly regarded when it comes to provision of medical services as compared to female soldiers. For instance a woman soldier may not access the services of a personal doctor as easily as a male soldier. On the same note, if women soldiers do access the services of such doctors, they are not treated with the same respect as that of their male counterparts. This is in terms of time spent with the doctor as well the level of attention directed towards the woman soldier (Sambamoorthi et al., 2010).
When women soldiers are deployed to serve their country, they receive little or no routine healthcare despite the fact that this should be mandatory to all soldiers especially women. Medical supplies are availed to the camps but in most cases women lack the time to have their health issues taken care of. For example women soldiers lack the space to attend to their medical needs sometimes due lack of privacy. In such a case, privacy issues such as feminine hygienic procedures have been neglected in most cases leading to stress and sometimes withdrawal from military as a career (Cooper et al., 2000). At the end of the day, this has resulted in few women joining the military or advancing their career within this field. Concerns have been raised regarding the lack of appropriate doctors who better understand the plea of female soldiers as a whole. For example, birth control and other female specific services are not put into consideration when providing healthcare for women in the military (Cooper et al., 2000).
Health care for women in the military has also been greatly affected by those in authority. Commanders have little or no information regarding the unique needs of women as far as health care issues are concerned (Holt et al., 2010). Most of the senior members of staff supervising the deployed women in the military lack the slightest idea on the significance of health care services for such women. They fail to understand that the women are supposed to have regular medical checkups. This is to ensure that they are always in good health and also to improve service delivery in the military as a whole. Contribution of women in the military is paramount and it cannot be downplayed (Baker, 2001). This is the reason why their health should not be compromised under any circumstances.
Those in charge of military camps have often failed to give women permission to seek for healthcare services outside the camps when the need arises. Women on the other hand sometimes fail to approach their commanders to seek such permission in an attempt to safeguard their privacy. This is especially so considering the fact that most of the commanders are men. Some of the women would rather keep to themselves and in the long run, their health conditions may deteriorate which in effect will reduce their output and contribution to the military (Baker, 2001).
In many cases, women in military have made efforts to appear tough in an effort to outdo their male counterparts. This is also aimed at proving that they are as fit as male soldiers. This display of bravado affects their health especially when they are forced to hide their feelings so that they can receive positive recommendations just like their male counterparts. They do not want to appear weak. This occurs frequently especially given that those in command are not trained adequately to understand the health problems faced by female soldiers. They are not aware of the fact that women need frequent medical attention than male soldiers in the field. Provision of medical services for female personnel is not a priority for the commanders. The major aim for these commanders is to make sure that the women accomplish their mission (Baker, 2001).
Commitments made by the military to improve medical care for women are not adequate. All the measures that were initially put in place to this end have been abandoned and there are no guidelines formulated to replace those measures (Mattocks et al., 2010). Less people are aware of the fact that women need special attention when it comes to provision of health care services. This is especially so considering that women are hesitant to approach male doctors when they have a very sensitive health issue that needs to be looked into. This becomes difficult especially when there are no female doctors in the camp who can attend to the health needs of such women (Mattocks et al., 2010).
Sexual Assaults and Health Care for Female Soldiers
Women in military have also experienced other challenges that are related to their medical care issues. First they are the victims of sexual assaults and harassment both within and without the military. With the inadequate medical facilities to respond to this, these women have become greatly affected as far as their military service is concerned (Kwolek et al., 2011). During their stay in those camps or even during their participation in the battlefront, the women are prone to cases of sexual harassment. They are usually the targets of such attacks and in most cases they are left with scars that may damage their entire life.
Quality health care may not be available to address the situation and avert such developments. Medical facilities to respond to such sexual assaults have not been put in place. Data from organisations and parties interested in this area shows that the women are provided with very little medical attention. This means that the same women are affected more when it comes to sexual assaults and harassment.
Another thing to note in sexual assault and harassment in military is the fact that the perpetrators are older men at ranks that are higher than those of their female victims. The women are expected to trust these men and protect the image of military as a whole (Kwolek et al., 2011). The women victims fear being victimised by being transferred from one unit to the other. At the end of the day, those women affected will not seek medical services in order to avoid such victimisation. This will in effect compromise the effectiveness of medical services provided to women in the military.
It has been noted that women in the military suffer from many ailments and conditions such as depression, hypertension among others in the course of their work. Analysts are of the view that adequate measures should be put in place to address the health needs of such women. This is especially those emanating from sexual harassments. If this is done, the women will not have to deal with the problems that they are currently facing (Fitzgeral, 2010).
Efforts have been made to encourage female soldiers report assault cases they encounter in their line of work. But with the pressure not to mention the perpetrators of such offences, the possibility of offering immediate treatment for those affected is reduced. Encouraging the women to report on such cases could be the best way of addressing the situation but it has not been effective since those assaulted must provide information about the offenders. This is information touching on their rank, age, race as well as the gender which could lead to the culprit being tracked down easily. This has discouraged the victims from seeking medical services on security grounds (Fitzgeral, 2010).
Female soldiers have complained to the media and to other lobbying organisations regarding the status of the health services provided. In spite of this, the government has failed to take appropriate measures to address the situation. Some sources state that half of the sexual assault cases are not reported. Within the military itself, the mechanism put in place to control sexual assaults are not effective. For example, mental care providers trained to ensure that the victims are not affected mentally are not operational at all.
Home-coming Women and Healthcare Issues
Women from the war front or war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan constitute about 12% of the troops who end up in medical facilities. They end up here with an array of conditions and ailments that would have been addressed or averted if quality health care services were availed at the battlefront. Female war veterans seeking medical services continue to crowd the hospitals that have been designed for male patients. When female veterans are compared to their male counterparts, it is noted that they have more medical needs that should be adequately addressed. This implies that women in the military need to be taken into consideration when providing health care services to soldiers (Harris, 2011).
The quality of health care services for female soldiers who have served at war is low that that of male soldiers. This is the case given that such women have always sought medical attention elsewhere especially outside the military hospitals. This is due to factors such as inadequate income and lack of medical cover. The large number of women in the medical care centres has also discouraged female soldiers from seeking medical services here, preferring to go elsewhere.
There have been several strategies adopted to improve the standards of healthcare services tailored for women. One of them is the inclusion of a primary clinical kit in all military hospitals to cater for female patients. In spite of this military hospitals have not shown any progress if the increasing number of sickly female war veterans is anything to go by. Home coming women have often experienced setbacks when it comes to provision of medical services. They are the wounded soldiers who need to be handled carefully. But the services required for such women are lacking in many military and civilian hospitals (Harris, 2011).
Findings from recent studies show that women in the military are more vulnerable to mental damage compared to their male counterparts (Haskal et al., 2010). As if this was not enough, there are more medical facilities addressing the needs of male patients than there are those addressing the needs of female patients. Exposure of women to combat, sexual trauma as well as stress has contributed greatly to cases of mental conditions on women. Studies show that women in military have taken initiatives to campaign for quality medical services for them.
One of the major challenges facing the provision of medical services to women in the military has not been resolved (Cooper et al., 2000). Women in the military are in dire need of specialised health care services which are lacking in many military hospitals. The quality of such services is also declining at an alarming rate. Most of the patients have to cover long distances in search of such services. This is for example in search of services such as Pap smear (Haskal et al., 2010).
Continuity of health care services for women in the military is very poor especially for the veterans. More than 50 percent of such women terminate their access to medical services from the military hospitals as soon as they leave the service. This is unfair for the women working in the military. The authorities have not made efforts to find out why women prefer to seek health care services elsewhere.
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