This issue is back in the news again, with the announcement that the DSTO is looking at the combat roles available in the army, previously denied to women on the basis of gender, to see whether gender restrictions could be replaced with physical competency requirements. Article from the SMH is here.
The issue was raised by the outgoing Chief of Army, Peter Leahy, who said that one day physical ability could take the place of gender in determining what roles women could take in the military. It’s important to note that 90% of roles within the military are open to women. It’s only a few specific roles such as the SAS, infantry, artillery gunners, and combat roles where women are not allowed to serve.
Of course the feelings of the government of the day also play a role, although the Defence Minister’s position seems to have changed from ‘never’ to ‘maybe, depending on a number of factors’.
There are still opponents to women taking over combat roles. From the linked SMH article:
Neil James, the executive director of the Australia Defence Association, said he believed there was “a little bit of flexibility left” to remove restrictions on roles such as in artillery which is becoming increasingly automated.
But he did not think Australia would see female riflemen in his lifetime. “The laws of biomechanics aren’t blown away ever by the most persuasively argued gender-equity theory,” he said. “When you get people physically fighting each other hand to hand on a daily basis, it’s just not fair to put women into that situation.”
But he doesn’t say why. Personally, I don’t like war and wouldn’t want to go there myself, or either of my children. However, there are women out there who do find serving in the armed forces satisfying and who do wish to serve in the 10% of roles currently denied to them. Also, serving in such roles would open up opportunities for promotion previously not available to them. So while I don’t like the idea of any combat, and would prefer that no one was needed for combat roles, I support the rights of those who wish to serve to do so regardless of gender.
What is rarely mentioned yet highly relevant is that modern combat makes distinguishing between “combat” and “non-combat” roles fairly meaningless: women serving on navy vessels can’t avoid combat if it comes to their boat, women in a convoy in the Middle East that comes under fire will return fire, and women serving as medics can even get combat medals for bravery under fire (although Monica Brown was subsequently removed from her unit). Is it fair that women who come under and return fire don’t get the extra training and pay that their male colleagues do?
So what is your attitude to women in combat roles and why?