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Did Women Benefit from the War?

Info: 1927 words (8 pages) Essay
Published: 18th May 2020 in History

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History Essay

Did women benefit from the war?

Prior to World War II women were mostly homemakers. Those that worked outside the home usually worked as secretaries, receptionists or department store clerks. Once World War II began, however, men went off to war by the millions and women stepped into the civilian and military jobs that they left behind. Women were proud to serve their country – but did they end up benefitting from the war?


The role of woman in World War Two was essentially known as the ‘Behind the scenes effort.’ In Australia over 400,000 men enlisted for world war one however only around 2,000 women enlisted to become nurses[1] and in USA around 12,000 women enlisted in auxiliary roles Navy and Marine Corps during the First World War [2] and over 4.7 million enlisted. This meant that many women were left at home from many countries and were required to provide many necessary items such as food, clothing, funds, medical work and a safe and secure country to return to at the end of the war effort. Women jumped at the chance to fill these positions, bring in some extra spending money, and support their family, country, and the feminist rights movement. During World War One large numbers of women were recruited into jobs that were previously occupied by men who had gone to fight in the war. New jobs were also created as part of the war effort, for example in munitions factories and hangars to build aircrafts where thousands worked [3].  The high demand for weapons resulted in the munitions factories becoming the largest single employer of women during 1918. Women eventually ended up working in almost every area of work that was formerly reserved for men like railway guards and ticket collectors, buses and tram conductor’s police and firefighters etc. However, women didn’t receive equal pay because of the physical differences [4] and issues of gender identity for both sexes [5].
By 1917 munitions factories, which primarily employed women workers, produced 80% of the weapons and shells used by the British Army. Many women had to handle TNT and risked their lives working with poisonous substances without adequate protective clothing or the required safety measures. Around 400 women died from overexposure from TNT in World War One. Women’s employment rates increased from 23.6% to around 40% in 1918 [6].

Women also played a big role in the war in the hospitals. They were positioned behind the trenches and dressing stations and were often split up into two separate lines with gas, surgical and sick in the front line where nurses addressed the complexity of the injury and the second line with evacuation hospitals. In between ambulances drove men that were sick into the evacuation hospitals and took them to railways to the main regulation stations and hospitals behind the field. The field hospitals were often civilian homes, barns and any serviceable buildings they could find. The women workers went on strike in 1918 to demand the same increase in pay as men. The strike spread to other towns in the much of England. This was the first equal pay strike in the UK which was initiated, led and ultimately won by women.Aside from this, women also played big roles in the telephone communication department as switchboard operators and were often called hello girls. [7] This was formed from general General John Pershing to improve the worsening state of communications on the Western front. Applicants had to speak both English and French to ensure that orders would be heard by anyone. Over 7,000 women applied, but only 450 women were accepted.

However some women in countries like Japan lost significantly from the war and many lost their lives. Thousands were abused in many ways like being used as sex slaves. Many brothels were set up in order to satisfy Japanese soldiers. These women performed in ‘comfort stations’ and became known as ‘comfort women’ and were often from countries like China and Korea.  Many people in Japan were very concerned about the image that these brothels set about Japan for the rest of the world. Many ordered for these stations to expand and they did in an effort to prevent further atrocities, reduce sexually transmitted diseases and ensure a steady and isolated group of prostitutes to satisfy Japanese soldiers’ sexual appetites. Recruiting women for the brothels came about via kidnapping and/or coercing them. Once they were in the brothels, they were forced to have sex with the captors in brutal inhumane conditions which resulted in many things such as STD’s and injuries. This became known as ‘military service’ and existed until the early 1945. By the end of war, records estimate that 90 per cent of all these ‘comfort women’ did not survive the war and there are very few survivors.

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Many women in countries such as Australia, UK and USA benefited from the war with closing the pay gap and lessening gender discrimination. In the UK a total of 80,000 women enlisted by the end of the war volunteering in a non-combatant role [8] [9]. This was also evident in Russia where almost every woman benefited. When the men left for war women were left with many jobs at home which brought in money for their families and also supported the men in war. In total 800,0000 women joined the war as well and became nurses, pilots, machine gunners, tank crew and surgeons[10]. This again brought in more revenue for the families. Although some of these women were severely unprepared for things like weather and the extra responsibility and work. Thousands of women and their families struggled and mothers became depressed, and some killed themselves. Also, some women were harassed and abused similar to countries in East-Asia.

In conclusion I believe women did benefit from the war because it helps start women striking to prove gender equality and that they can work in society and helped lead to women’s rights in our county.

Bibliography & Sources:


  • McDermott, A 2018, How World War 2 empowered women, History, viewed 12 September 2019, <https://www.history.com/news/how-world-war-ii-empowered-women>.
  • Wikipedia nd,Hello Girls, viewed 12 September 2019, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hello_Girls>.
  • Uren, A /Europeana nd,1914-1918 Working Women of WW1, Mashable, viewed 12 September 2019, <https://mashable.com/2015/02/08/women-wwi-workers/>.
  • Wilde, R 2019, Women and Work in World War One, Thought Co, viewed 12 September 2019, <https://www.thoughtco.com/women-and-work-world-war-1-1222030>.
  • Engineering and Technology History Wiki 2017, Japanese Women and the Japanese War Effort, viewed 12 September 2019, <https://ethw.org/Japanese_Women_and_the_Japanese_War_Effort>.
  • Stibbe, M 2014, Women’s Mobilisation for war (Germany), International Encyclopedia of the first World War, viewed 12 September 2019, <https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/womens_mobilisation_for_war_germany>.
  • History 2018, The brutal history of Japan’s ‘Comfort women’, viewed 13 September 2019, <https://www.history.com/news/comfort-women-japan-military-brothels-korea>.

Other Sources:

  • McKernan, Michael,  All In!, Fighting the War at Home, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 1995,  pp.211-223
  • Summerfield, P, Women Workers in the Second World War, Routledge, London, 1989, in Copland et al, World War II : The Crushing of the Axis, Monash University, 2005, pp.136-7

[1] 2015, Women in World War One, viewed 12 September 2019, <DVA_Women_in_War_part2_0.pdf>.

[2] “Women in the war – international”. CBC News. May 30, 2006. Archived from the original on August 17, 2011.

[3] Adams, R.J.Q. (1978). Arms and the Wizard. Lloyd George and the Ministry of Munitions 1915 – 1916, London: Cassell & Co Ltd. ISBN 0-304-29916-2. Particularly, Chapter 8: The Women’s Part.

[4] Brad Knickerbocker (January 4, 2014). “Just three pull-ups: Too Many for women in the Marine Corps?”. CS Monitor. Retrieved October 10, 2017.

[5] Barton C. Hacker and Margaret Vining, eds. A Companion to Women’s Military History (2012)

[6] Gail, B 1989, Womens Workers in the first World War, Routledge, . p 89.

[7] “Malstrom Airforce Base”. Archived from the original  on July 22, 2011.

[8]  “Women Combatants” BBC History. Retrieved 2 June2009.

[9] Robert, Krisztina. “Gender, Class, and Patriotism: Women’s Paramilitary Units in First World War Britain.” International History Review 19#1 (1997): 52-65.

[10]  Laurie Stoff, They Fought for the Motherland: Russia’s Women Soldiers in World War I and the Revolution (U Press of Kansas, 2006)


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