European countries have had varying policies that confine women and military service or the extent of their participation in the national armed services of their respective countries, especially combatant roles in armed conflicts or hostile environments.WOMEN IN THE MILITARY| WOMEN AND THE MILITARY IN EUROPE While most of the countries have always allowed women to participate in military activities involving no direct aggression with the enemy, most began seeing the value of servicewomen in the armed services during the First World War when they began losing unprecedented numbers of servicemen. In modern times many of the European countries now allow women to voluntarily pursue a career path or profession in the national armed services of their country as well as permit conscription equality, with minimal or no restrictions at all.In the 1800s, women in the French military were responsible for preparing meals for soldiers, and were called Cantinières. They sold food to soldiers beyond that which was given to them as rations. Cantinières had commissions from the administrators of the regiments, and they were required to be married to a soldier of the regiment. They served near the front lines on active campaigns, and some served for as long as 30 years.


The role of women in the French military grew in 1914 with the recruitment of women as medical personnel (Service de Santé des Armées). In 1939, they were authorized to enlist with the armed service branches, and in 1972 their status evolved to share the same ranks as those of men. Nonetheless, women are still not permitted to join the field combat units or to be aboard the submarines of the French navy.


Valérie André, a neurosurgeon, became the first woman in France to attain the rank of three-star general as Médecin Général Inspecteur. A veteran of the French Resistance, she served overseas in Indochina. During that period, she learned how to pilot a helicopter so that she could reach wounded soldiers who were trapped in the jungle. André is the first woman to have flown a helicopter in combat. She received many decorations for her achievements, including the highest rank of the Legion of Honour. She retired from active service in 1981. Many other French women were involved in the French Resistance.


Today women make up around 15% of all service personnel in the combined branches of the French military. They are 11% of the Army forces, 13% for the Navy, 21% of the Air Force and 50% of the Medical Corps. This is the highest proportion of female personnel in Europe.


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