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29 December, 2021
Women’s bulletproof vests: unnecessary stuff or act of care?
I’m going to say something scary. A real nightmare for conservative circles in the army. Here it is: gender-oriented budgeting. Here’s more: women’s underwear. Already scared? Finally, women’s bulletproof vests. Yet again, these freaking feminists are interfering in others’ business. At least, this is curious because women’s bulletproof vests were invented ... by a man.
 
I’ve been in the field since 2015 and I’ve tortured my back with all kinds of vests. So, I know what I’m saying. But I never used them every day, only in hot spots, which is just a couple of hours. It is clear that servicemen and women wear the vests much longer every day, performing their duties and carrying out military tasks. It is kind of obvious. So how come that news about a piece of gear meant to improve comfort and maintain soldiers’ good health receives such controversial feedback from society? Bulletproof vests adjusted to female anatomy, women’s breasts, to be precise, have provoked numerous discussions and memes.
 
Earlier, Ukrainian servicewomen were provided with men’s underwear.
 
Now, turning to gender-oriented budgeting. It wouldn’t be true if I said that there has been no improvement in material support for the army over the last eight years. However, it could still be better for 32,000 service members. By this, I mean 32,000 servicewomen. And yes, they have breasts and they get pregnant, but it doesn’t mean that they are less effective in their service. Armies where inclusiveness (i.e., people) is not the last priority demonstrate stronger performance and better defence-ready condition levels.
 
For example, women serving in the Canadian Armed Forces are compensated for underwear. That is, men are  provided with underwear. To women, they say, “Here’s the money, go buy something that would fit you.” In the Ukrainian army, women were first provided with men’s underwear. They passed it to men or wore it as shorts in summer. Later, they started working on women’s underwear, but in fact, nothing has changed.
 
Indeed, women’s bulletproof vests are not known in any NATO country. So, our partners were actually surprised to learn about this Ukrainian innovation. Moreover, according to U.S. female pilots, they are still forced to wear male pilot suits, which are uncomfortable for women. The first spacewalk by a team of female astronauts not accompanied by men was scheduled in May 2019; it had to be postponed due to the lack of appropriate spacesuits. Instead of adjusting the suit for a female crew member, they replaced her with a male colleague. So, the all-female team completed their spacewalk five months later, in October 2019. 
 
In principle, women’s bulletproof vests exist, but not in the Ukrainian army.
 
Actually, the damper system of the women’s bulletproof vest designed by Balistka, a Ukrainian manufacturer, is meant not only for women but also for men with developed chest muscles. Therefore, it is a unisex model. Another Ukrainian manufacturer, Velmet, is also working on women’s bulletproof vests. They adjusted the plate by bending it in the chest area.
 
However, no big orders for female bulletproof vests have been made by any security agencies so far, in particular, for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. At the same time, it was the National Guard of Ukraine that had requested designing the vests. Pending the testing phase of the garment, women are buying their own personal vests. By the way, there is also a proposal for female military journalists. It is more about the design, though.
 
What’s important is that the case for women’s bulletproof vests is not about women. It is about a chance to improve the gear by making it more comfortable and suitable. It is about our army and other security agencies taking care of their people, knowing their value, and encouraging them to continue their service. Military men and women leave not because they are not provided with appropriate underwear, but because the Armed Forces of Ukraine are still struggling to become a human-centred structure.

Iryna Sampan