What is the problem?
More women serve in the Armed Forces of Ukraine than in some NATO countries, but Ukraine still doesn't have women's uniforms.
Today, Ukraine has a high number of women in the Armed Forces, even among NATO member countries. The number of female military personnel in the armies of NATO member countries ranges from 0.3% to 20%. In the USA, for example, 17%, Great Britain — 11%, Poland — 7%, Denmark — 8%, Estonia — 10%, etc. Ukrainian Armed Forces have 9% of women, which is more than 70,000 female military personnel.
At the same time, the availability of appropriate clothing and underwear was still a glaring issue for the military's female personnel. Uniforms had been designed for men, and alternatives for women simply did not exist. Women joining the military were given male uniforms, which caused discomfort, inconveniences, and a feeling of unfairness.
It's more than just a matter of style or discomfort. Uniforms that don't fit properly can disadvantage a soldier. An oversized coat will gather in the folds under body armor, and won't efficiently keep a soldier warm in cold weather. Pants that are oversized will hang low on the waist, exposing the wearer to more heat loss.
Women spend twice as much as men on their standard-issue uniforms
Iryna Nykorak, the Kyiv City Council member and founder of Arm Women Now explains that women who joined the Armed Forces typically spent their own money to have their standard-issue uniforms tailored to fit their body shape. That usually meant that women in the military ended up having to spend twice as much as men or more on their uniforms.
Before February 24, a military uniform would usually cost around $27, with the tailor's bill coming up to $50, to ensure a proper fit. The extra time and expense might have been tolerated in peacetime, but after russia invaded, and Ukrainians rushed to join the military by the thousands – women needed a more immediate solution.
The Arm Women Now initiative began in oder to ensure that women on the front lines are equipped with comfortable and convenient tactical clothing. Together with other groups they are working to see their efforts become the official uniform policy of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Rubryka spoke with Iryna Nykorak about when the Ministry of Defense officially introduces the uniform, its design, and its manufacturing process.
What is the solution?
Designers creating a female military uniform for Ukraine used tactical clothing from the US Army as a basis
Women's military uniforms are new to many countries. Even some NATO countries still do not have military uniforms for women. France's military issues unisex clothing that has latches to be adjusted to the wearer's needs.
The US Army has had female service members since 1948 – but did not develop a uniform designed for women until 2011. The creation process took over three years, as designers thoroughly studied 93 different scans of various female and male body types in order to perfect the inherent needs for tactical clothing. Arm Women Now took the US uniform that resulted as a basis for their design, and had it sewn according to NATO standards.
The new prototype of the Ukrainian uniform differs from the American one in many ways: its collar is similar for both female and male uniforms so that they do not differ greatly in appearance. It has additional pockets for knee pads and armrests, and instead of snaps on the coat, there are buttons, simply because they are easier to sew if they break off. In addition, specific requests of Ukrainian servicemen were taken into account.
What came of it?
Work on the creation of the Ukrainian women's military uniform began in the summer of 2022, resulting in two versions of the suit — one for summer and one for winter.
When creating uniforms for Ukrainian women soldiers, Arm Women Now took into account the peculiarities of the female body. For example, women's pants are no different from the men's on the outside, but require a different cut and a much higher fit, because women's waists are anatomically higher than men's, requiring the pants to be wider in the hips.
There are additional fasteners in the waist area to adjust the size so that when a woman squats, her pants will not fall.
The coat is also fitted so that the excess fabric does not form creases and folds that may interfere with movement under the bulletproof vest.
Special attention was paid to underwear. For example, tops appeared in the arsenal of Great Britain and the United States military personnel after medical studies proved that wearing the wrong underwear during heavy physical exertion can affect a woman's health.
How do women evaluate the new uniform?
Nykorak shares that when Arm Women Now made the first batch of 300 sets and sent them to the front, they already had thousands of requests from service members who write to the group on social networks, or even through an official appeal on behalf of an entire unit. Before the New Year, they completed requests for three large units — providing uniforms, a set of regular and thermal underwear, and warm winter clothing items to 2,000 women on the front lines.
Nykorak is confident that their women are satisfied with their uniform, and that in 90% of cases, the form fits perfectly on any type of figure, and soldiers publishing their reviews on social media show they're pleased with having a uniform that fits them comfortably.
"I don't need to twist my arm in a completely unnatural way to fasten the coat on the men's side; I don't need to re-sew it, trying to fit it even roughly to my figure," writes servicewoman Tetyana Vodyanina. "This means that, for the first time, the shoulders will sit where they're supposed to, and the chest will have a little more space than a man needs, while there will be less space below the waist because females don't need it there."
Others are happy that the form no longer needs to be hemmed, shortened and tightened with belts.
For some, a fitted uniform adds comfort and confidence. Iryna Nykorak says that the most important thing about uniforms is, of course, safety and health. Still, when a soldier puts on a uniform in which she is comfortable, she immediately looks different.
"Look at our girls," she says, pointing to a "wall of indomitability" with photos of just some of the women that Arm Women Now has supported.
With a smile, she even remembers some requests to sew men's sets because they liked the quality of women's uniforms so much. But the organization cannot cover such requests because it tries to concentrate the available finances and resources on completing uniforms specifically for women.
How much does such a uniform cost?
Funds for tailoring uniforms are collected at charity events, and sometimes organizations also donate fabric. A Ukrainian woman living in Glasgow provided Arm Women Now with two tons of material free of charge, and volunteers also delivered it to the production facility for free.
Iryna laughs, remembering that previously, they ordered 200-300 sets and sewed an additional 50-100. Now they have contracted with one production until April.
"I don't have the money to cover the expenses until April, but I already arranged it. I understand that there is no way back, none," Iryna laughs.
Currently, servicewomen can receive uniforms from Arm Women Now free of charge. Counting the net cost of the uniform, with the fabric, fittings, and payment for the work of sewing shops totals about $60.
The organization's members see how grateful the female defenders are to have comfortable, functional uniforms, and continues to work constantly.
"When I woke up on January 1 and opened the work chat, I saw that our volunteers were already at Nova Poshta. Now we have shipments almost daily," Iryna says proudly.
Shoes, body armor, and uniforms for pregnant women
Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov noted in December 2022 the introduction of a separate type of high-toe boots for female military personnel would begin the following month.
The same applies to body armor, taking into account physical pecularities. Ukrainian manufacturers have already developed a sample of a bulletproof vest that redistributes weight in way that is comfortable for female wearers. After completing the cycle of tests according to the established procedures, it will go to the front.Uniforms specially made for pregnant women are already provided to military personnel in Germany, and the US Army started testing them in 2022 – but while the Ukrainian military has yet to officially introduce them, volunteers of the NGO Zemlyachki set a precedent by creating a custom uniform for Yevhenia Emerald, a sniper and officer of the Armed Forces of Ukraine who performed combat tasks throughout the first months of her pregnancy.
Mr. Reznikov has said that uniforms for pregnant women in the military may also be introduced in the future.
When will military uniforms for women become official?
It will be up to the Ministry of Defense to make an official decision on updating its uniform standards.
When it does, Arm Women Now hopes that their work will have paid off. In November 2022, the organization submitted over 300 sets of uniforms and tactical underwear to the armed forces for testing, after consulting with the military about their recommendations and wishes. It may be necessary to revise the existing design, but when a final design is approved, it will printed with an official seal from the Ministry of Defense.
The process is complex, lengthy, and bureaucratic – but since they see the need being "here and now," Arm Women Now continues seeking additional funding to provide women with comfortable and convenient military clothing.
I want to order a uniform or help someone get one.
Military personnel can order a uniform by submitting a a form on Arm Women Now's website.
You can donate sewing military uniforms for women from Ukraine or abroad, even in cryptocurrency.
You can also support the organization by spreading the word. You can find Arm Women Now on Instagram or mention the organization on other social networks with the hashtag #ArmWomenNow.
Digest of the most interesting news: just about the main thing