War has historically been very much considered the province of men. With a few notable historical exceptions, in fact, it’s pretty much been a universal constant that it’s the men that go out and do the fighting and women who stay at home and take care of the house and the children.
It’s not to those historical exceptions that we turn our eyes to today but to the modern examples of female soldiers who make up the various Female Special Forces Units worldwide.
Despite still being relatively rare, there are quite a few examples of female SpecOps units the world over – more than you’d probably think.
From the Kurdish women fighting ISIS to the all-women Norwegian Jegertroppen, there are plenty of female units across the globe showing the guys that they can fight just as well – if not better.
Let’s take a look at the five most formidable female Special Forces units worldwide.
The YPJ (Iraqi Kurdistan)
The YPJ (Women’s Protection Unit) is a Kurdish militia unit known primarily for defending Iraqi Kurdistan against the barbaric depredations of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL).
They fight alongside their male counterparts (the YPG) and the world-famous Kurdish Peshmerga in their fight against brutal terrorists.
The unit got its start in 2012 and was formed as a response to repeated incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan not only by ISIS but also by Syrian government troops and the Nusra Front.
It’s comprised of around 7000 women between the ages of 18-40, all of whom are volunteers. The unit does allow under-18s to act in an auxiliary capacity but does not allow them to engage in active combat.
Beyond their role in defending Iraqi Kurdistan, the fighters of the YPJ are challenging the idea of traditional gender roles in Kurdish society.
Largely celebrated as a feminist movement as well as a military unit, the YPJ is changing the very nature of a woman’s role in society in the region. Many unit members have expressed their unwillingness to marry or have children, for instance, and the fighters of the YPJ are respected as equals by their male counterparts.
Furthermore, the YPJ is particularly effective against the brutal fighters of ISIS. The reason? ISIS is terrified of being killed by women, believing that they won’t go to heaven if killed by a woman.
The ‘Revolutionary Nuns’ (Libya)
Purportedly maintained for the aesthetics as much as their martial prowess, the eye-catching members of Muammar Qadaffi’s personal guard were nicknamed the “Revolutionary Nuns” and accompanied him wherever he went.
The Revolutionary Nuns employed a look unique among soldiers, male or female. They wore high heels and kept their hair loose – two conceits that many might say were less than tactically astute – and always wore makeup when on duty.
Qadaffi also had some requirements of unit members that raised a few eyebrows – he demanded that each woman in the unit was a virgin, for instance, and that they take a vow of chastity. He also renamed each and every one after his daughter, Aisha.
The Revolutionary Nuns disbanded after Qadaffi’s death, with many being captured and imprisoned by the rebels who overthrew the notorious Libyan dictator.
The Jegertroppen (Norway)
The Jegertroppen (Hunter Troop) is an all-female military unit from Norway that has been garnering attention the world over for its grueling regimen and complete dedication to its military training.
The women of the Jegertroppen are routinely put through their paces with exhausting day-spanning marches in which they carry equipment that weighs as much as they do.
Their training sessions are sometimes so intense and lengthy that they’re required to hunt for their own food to make sure they don’t go hungry. They also frequently simulate combat drops from aircraft.
The unit has its origins in 2014 when the Norwegian military saw a need for an all-female unit that would be able to communicate with women and children in Afghanistan (who would not speak to men due to the country’s infamously conservative culture).
The unit initially began as an experiment but has proven to be such a runaway success that it is now an established part of the Norwegian army.
Special Welfare Brigade (China)
The women of the People’s Liberation Army’s Special Welfare Brigade undergo a daily regimen as harsh and unrelenting as many of those tackled by their counterparts in other all-women units around the world.
They’re required to get up at 5:35 am, run 5km in less than 24 minutes, and embark on marches of 30-40km in full gear (which weighs around 15kg).
The soldiers of the unit also undergo extensive combat and tactical training. Rappelling, SCUBA diving, and parachuting are all required skills, and the women are also fully instructed in the use of submachine guns, sidearms, and longarms.
The training camp of the Special Welfare Brigade is located about 2 hours from Beijing, close to the Yellow Sea. It is there that the women do their swimming and SCUBA diving training in harsh and choppy waters with poor visibility.
With their rigorous training regimen and emphasis on combat and survival skills, there’s no question that the women of the Special Welfare Brigade are some of the toughest female soldiers in the world.
The Lotta Corp (Sweden)
The Swedish Lotta Corp is a defense organization that’s only open to female operatives. It is not merely a military organization, but also does a lot of work for civilian emergency preparedness.
The organization was founded in 1924 and was modeled upon a similar organization in Finland. It’s named for a fictional woman who cared for wounded Finnish soldiers in a poem by noted Finnish poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg.
There are around 5,000 women active in the Lotta Corp. Most of their duties revolve around peacetime activities, and they rarely see active combat.
Instead, they engage in military exercises and liaise extensively with civilian authorities in order to assist in the event of natural disasters, such as earthquakes or wildfires.
There’s No Shortage of Female Special Forces Units Worldwide
As we’ve seen, there is no shortage of female military units that are every bit as hardy and dedicated as their male counterparts.
Whether fighting off Islamic insurgents or plumbing the murky depths of the Yellow Sea, sisters the world over are doing it for themselves (and their countries).