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Equality in the armed forces too much for some

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Ed Knight
WVoN co-editor

The Indian Defence Ministry has confirmed twice in parliament in the last two months that it has no plans to integrate women into combat roles.

This has provoked consternation from Indians who point out that “even Pakistan” permits women fighter pilots.

This marks a miss-step in the general crawl towards equality in the world’s armed forces.

As reported last week in WVoN, the US army has recently opened up a selection of combat-based roles to women, although none involve direct frontline fighting.

There are several countries which have or are implementing gender parity legislation. For instance, the Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith last year announced the inclusion of women in full combat roles by 2016, saying that combat effectiveness is simply a matter of “allowing the best people to come forward”.

In Sweden there has been equality since 1989, with Denmark and Finland not far behind. France does not have women in full combat roles nor serving on submarines, another controversial area for women’s inclusion, but does boast one of the highest percentages of serving women in Europe, measuring 15% in 2009. The US military currently has 20% serving women.

The number of women serving in the UK armed forces was a paltry 9.1% in 2006 (no more up to date figures seem to be available), with 71% percent of Army and Royal Navy roles open to them, and 96% of those in the RAF.

This is on a par with the general movement towards equality in the world’s armed forces, but, with no official plans from the MOD to introduce women to full combat roles, the UK has some way to go. The fact that the first woman to assume command of a frontline warship became a reality earlier this week highlights just how difficult it can be for them to make it to the top.

Age-old complaints of physical inferiority are still common, and the worrying incidence of sexual assault is slowly coming to the fore.

The Israeli Defence Force reinstated women combat soldiers in 2000, having not previously employed them since 1948, when the practice was withdrawn after higher death tolls were seen in mixed-gender units than all-male.

The reasons seem far from clear as this 2002 report from the MOD points out:

“The assumption was that Arab soldiers had fought more determinedly against women rather than risk disgrace by surrendering to them.  Other accounts indicate that this decision was made arbitrarily following the massacre of women in a small patrol that had been captured.  It was assessed that Israeli male morale suffered disproportionately when a female soldier was killed or wounded.”

Far be it from me to tell the armed forces what to do but if the negative impact of women soldiers lies largely with how it affects the men fighting alongside them, rather than in women’s capabilities, then the responsibility to change, perhaps, lies with men.

Or is that too obvious?

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