Masseuse is sometimes a euphemism for prostitute or sex worker: an annoyance for many massage therapists who offer no sexual contact. But given the common misuse, and given the social context of mostly male military personnel, it’s interestingly odd to see a Swedish official advocating that women must be allowed to perform massages on soldiers – as a logical necessary consequence of a policy of Gender Equality. Of course opportunities to work on government contracts should be gender-equal. And the ‘unequal’ policy is probably grounded in ‘protecting’ women as a general principle, which is no good. However, there could be some old-fashioned realism involved in the exclusion, given mostly male armies and the longstanding covert use of massage to signify prostitution. I wonder how many female massage therapists there are in Afghanistan who might like to take up this opportunity?
14 December 2009, The Local
A Swedish army gender adviser in Afghanistan has taken the Armed Forces to task for only employing local men to perform massages on troops stationed in Mazar-E-Sharif. In a written internal document submitted from Swedish headquarters at Camp Northern Lights, Gender Field Adviser Captain Krister Fahlstedt of Afghanistan force FS17 took exception to an army contract specifying that on-base massage services should be provided exclusively by men.
“The agreement specifies, with no further explanation, that the physiotherapists (masseurs/masseuses) should be men,” wrote Fahlstedt in his November submission. The captain’s investigations showed that the recommendation was followed to the letter, as two men were brought in to perform massages.
“It is the opinion of FS17 that there are no reasonable grounds for gender to be one of the profile requirements,” he wrote. Fahlstedt further stressed that his force was committed to strengthening the position of women in society by helping create the conditions in which they could become self-sufficient.
“It’s not important as such whether women eventually get the job, what’s important is that there’s equality of opportunity and they are treated on the same terms as men,” Fahlstedt told The Local. “Contracts of this kind must always be gender neutral, and this is actually the only time I’ve seen an army contract worded in this way,” he added.
Fahlstedt, active in both the Centre Party and the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL), returned earlier this month to Sweden from service with the FS17 force. He remains hopeful that the army will rectify the situation and begin considering the possibility of employing Afghan masseuses. “I haven’t received a formal response yet but I have been led to believe that the necessary changes will be made to the contract,” he told The Local.