Nigeria’s army will stop admitting some of its best combat soldiers—because they’re women

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Nigeria could soon stop admitting female combatants into the military training program after a recommendation by the country’s Armed Forces council.

The decision represents a major policy reversal after female cadets were first admitted in 2011. If adopted, it will mean that female soldiers will never be able to rise high enough to head any of Nigeria’s armed forces. The policy is unlikely to affect current applicants to the army training program (applications for the 2018 program started last month), according The Punch newspaper.

Quartz’s email inquiries to the army about the reasons for the decisions were not replied before publication.

Given Nigeria’s largely conservative disposition, much of the rhetoric to explain the policy reversal has focused on religion. “The northern Muslim leaders want to prevent a situation where one day, a woman will lead the army and give orders to men,” an unnamed army general told The Punch.

The decision can hardly be blamed on female cadets performing poorly. As The Punch reports, female cadets excelled—and won awards—since they started getting admitted to the training program in 2011.

While Nigeria walks back in time, other African countries have looked to lead the way. In 2014, Algeria became the Arab country with the most high-ranking female army commanders after appointing three female army generals. The move was part of the country’s efforts to improve gender equality in its law enforcement agents.

In the Horn of Africa, women have long played prominent roles in Eritrea and Ethiopia. During the war for Eritrea’s independence, female combat soldiers accounted for 30% of Eritrea’s military.

Eritrean female soldiers played a key role in its battle for independence (Reuters/Jack Kimball)

Ethiopia’s female soldiers also continue to play a role in the country’s peacekeeping missions on the continent. In 2000, a UN resolution pushed for women’s involvement in its peacekeeping mission to reach 20% by 2020 but Ethiopia had reached the 16% mark at the time. Beyond the continent, the United States opened up all combat military jobs to women last year.

There’s already been some push back for the army council’s recommendation. It’s been criticized by civil society groups and a petition to halt the policy reversal has garnered almost 1,000 signatures since being published.

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