Quartz’s email inquiries to the army about the reasons for the decisions were not replied before publication. But Premium Times later reported that Nigeria’s defense headquarters refuted the suggestion it would stop admitted female cadets altogether.
Female cadets were first admitted in 2011 and if such a policy was adopted, it would have meant female soldiers never being able to rise high enough to head any of Nigeria’s armed forces.
Given Nigeria’s largely conservative disposition, much of the rhetoric to explain the possible 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.
Any considerations for such a decision could not have been blamed on female cadets performing poorly. According to The Punch, female cadets excelled—and won awards—since they started getting admitted to the training program in 2011.
Other African countries have looked to lead the way with female combatants. 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.
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 had already been some push back for the army council’s recommendation by civil society groups and a petition to halt the policy reversal has garnered almost 1,000 signatures since being published.