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Women in combat roles: themes characterising adjustment in the Israel Defense Force—a pilot study
  1. Noa Berezin Cohen1 and
  2. I Netzer2,3
  1. 1 Department of Mental Health, Medical Corps, IDF, Tel Hashomer, Israel
  2. 2 Naval Medicine Branch, Israeli Navy, Tel Aviv, Israel
  3. 3 Medical Corps, IDF, Tel Aviv, Israel
  1. Correspondence to I Netzer, Naval Medicine, IDF, Tel Aviv 61909, Israel; wazoo{at}


Background The Israel Defense Force is the only military organisation in the world that mandatorily conscripts women since its founding. Despite legislative changes, the percentage of women serving as combat soldiers is low, and the dropout rate is high. Women in these professions experience a complex and unique adaptation process.

Aims To characterise the experiences of female combat soldiers adjusting to combat roles in comparison with male soldiers and non-warfighter female soldiers.

Method A pilot study was undertaken in order to inform further research. Mental health officers in the women’s units conducted group interviews. These were composed of four stages: projection, reflection, processing and formulating solutions.

Results The themes apparent in the interviews conform to phenomena appearing in the literature such as tokenism, disruption of gender identity and internalisation of the superiority of male values. In addition, we identified distortion of body image and increased burnout.

Discussion and conclusions The study points to the significance of gender aspects in the mental adaptation process of women in combat positions. Issues pertaining perceptions of inequality should not be deemed to be purely sociological, but rather as a gateway facilitating adjustment. This should be taken into account in future research and in the formulation of support strategies.

  • female combat soldiers
  • military
  • adjustment
  • coping
  • gender roles

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as online supplementary information.

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Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as online supplementary information.

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  • Contributors NBC designed the trial, collected data and approved the final text. IN participated in writing the manuscript and approved the final text.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.