Female cadre will no longer be just showpieces in the Maoist military wing. The rebels have intensified recruitment of women to create a separate female army battalion. In their first selection phase, they have taken 75 females from across Rukum. There are four more selection phases to go and by the end they plan to recruit nearly 400 female fighters. Before, the Maoists used to include two females in each section of 13 members. Critics have often claimed that the inclusion of females in the Maoist rank and file is to satisfy the sexual desires of their male fighters. But female rebels deny such charges. "Under our revolutionary discipline, the party has always tried to maintain the gender balance," said Maoist activist Bijuli. But she says female guerrillas have problems like marriage, pregnancy and child care which have always hindered their growth. "Our party believes in equal opportunity and participation, but there are practical problems that have not allowed us to reach the leadership level," says Chetana, a member of the Maoist eastern bureau. "But now that the battalion is being created, this will serve as a platform for our growth." The formation of the female battalion appears to be a response to the recruitment of female soldiers into the Royal Nepali Army. But not all the female Maoists have joined the female battalion willingly. Sapana Magar was forced to join the Maoists and recalls: "When they came to my home, my father cursed them and so they took me with them by force. Now they want me to join the battalion." She says girls like her are being forced to join the unit. Comrade Chetana is defensive: "To borrow Mao's words, people are herd of sheep that can be controlled only through power."