Right up to the onset of the World War I the role of women was limited to managing homes and taking care of children. Women had pledged themselves to peace in transnational women’s solidarity. The emergence of the first world war served as an avenue for women to prove to a male dominated society that they were capable of doing more than just managing the homes and taking care of the children. In the heat of the war, many men soldiers remained wounded being rendered casualties as others were left dead. This created a gap in employment that prompted women being called upon to fill the gaps. By 1914 for instance, 5.09 million out of 23.8 million women in Britain had taken up jobs. Several thousand worked in ammunition factories, offices and big hangers for constructing aircraft. Some knitted socks for soldiers at the war front and others as volunteers. As a matter of fact, women had to work for money so that they could support their children back at home.
One of the major roles played by women during the first and second world wars was that of Nursing. Young women voluntarily joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VADs) and First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANYs). Such women underwent basic medical training and accompanied the soldiers to the battlefields. Although they did not actively participate in war, their role was to comfort the wounded soldiers and provide basic medical treatment.
The raging world wars prompted inclusion of women not only within the army but also in the civilian workforce. The United States and Britain mobilised women to join war related industries and other workplaces to avail men for military duties. Women were assigned monition jobs. Women were seen daily manufacturing tanks and parachutes, and bomb casings. This job was dangerous as it exposed most women to sulphur that made their skins turn yellow. As a result of their crucial contribution to the war, these women got nicknamed “canaries.” However in 1918 after the World War I and when the men came back from war, these women left such jobs to the men (Canadian Government).
The beginning of World War II led to a global conflict on a very wide and scale that there came an urgent need to mobilize the entire population, including women into war. The role of women became extensive in the World War II as compared to World War I. By 1945, about 400,000 of the US women served in the armed forces and about 500 of them died during the war. In the process, women became recognised as a permanent entity of the armed forces. This was crowned by the passing of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of 1948 (Goldstein). In Britain, the contribution of both men and women got acknowledgement by using the term “home front” to indicate that the war was being fought on a domestic scale too. Many women served with the Women’s Auxiliary Fire Service, the Air Rapid Precautions and Women Auxiliary Police Corps.
At the end of the Second World War, it became a very difficult transition when women were finally expected to give up their jobs to their male counterparts who had come from the war. Many women had gotten used to these jobs and were drawing enjoyment from them, particularly in the workforce (Goldstein). In countries like the US, rules had been enacted to recognise the roles of women in the active participation in the country’s development. It is thus evident that women played a major contribution in World Wars. These wars provided an opportunity to discover the untapped potential that women possessed.
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