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Unisex dorms reduce harassment in Norwegian army: study

Tuesday March 25 2014

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Mixed-gender dormitories have helped curb sexual harassment in the Norwegian army, the author of a new study said on Monday, refuting long held beliefs on the subject.

"We were very surprised. We had thought these mixed rooms would encourage harassment, or in any case not reduce it," said Ulla-Britt Lilleaas, co-author of the report "The Army: the vanguard, rear guard and battlefield of equality."

The two researchers based their findings on interviews with 20 soldiers -- 10 men and 10 women -- as well as with top and middle ranking officers at a garrison with mixed dormitories.

The study only found one serious case of sexual harassment had occurred there, while the phenomenon was far more widespread at a unit of the Norwegian navy, where the rooms were segregated.

In a mixed dorm "the soldiers are more like comrades, friends, almost brothers and sisters. There isn't this us-and-them division," Lilleaas, a professor of health science currently working at the University of Oslo, said.

"Degenderisation" means "stereotypes fade: the boys put a damper on jokes at the expense of women, foreigners and gays; and the girls banter and talk less," she added.

"There is no gender in the army, there is only green," one of the interviewees was quoted as saying by the Information Centre for Gender Research in Norway.

"You have to be a team here, and then you have to live together in order to be able to trust in one another," another, female interviewee said.

However, Lilleaas added that unisex dorms were not the only reason for the differing outcomes -- cultural differences between the army and the navy, and different leadership styles, probably also affected the result.

Last year, Norway decided to extend its mandatory military service to women. The new rules are expected to come into force next year.

The move is seen as a step towards gender equality and a bid to diversify skills within the military.

It is not due to a shortage of conscripts: only 8,000 to 10,000 Norwegians are called up each year, among the some 60,000 who are theoretically eligible.

Norwegian women have been allowed to perform military service on a volunteer basis since 1976. They currently represent about 10 percent of conscripts.

The defence ministry had set a target of 20 percent women in the Norwegian armed forces by 2020.