Will British Army allow women to serve in combat roles?
US military decision starts a debate here – but some say women are already fighting on the frontline
THE United States' move to lift the ban on women assuming roles in frontline combat units has been lauded as a watershed moment. Now will the UK follow suit?
Britain has to review its current policy on females in combat within the next five years under EU equality laws and, as a military source told The Times, America’s decision to allow women on the frontline is "highly likely" to influence the debate.
Under current rules female soldiers – who compromise around nine per cent of the British armed forces - are not allowed to enter into situations where they could "engage and potentially kill" the enemy.
But many argue that, in American defence secretary Leon Panetta's words, "women are already in combat, fighting and dying alongside their male counterparts" due to the changing nature of war.
Among soldiers there's a difference of opinion. While Brigadier Nicky Moffat, the former top female solider in the army, told Channel 4 News it was time for a change, retired Major Judith Webb said she believed women were not up to the physical challenge.
In 2010, when the matter was last reviewed in Britain, defence minister Andrew Robathan said there was no evidence a change would be “beneficial or risk free”. Back then, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) found male soldiers would pay too much attention to female soldiers if they were wounded, possibly risking their own lives. The armed forces, however, may already be flouting the rules, with 55 women serving in so-called ‘male only’ roles in the Territorial Army in 2012.
For Sir Hew Strachan, a brigadier general and military historian, the character of war has changed so significantly women are already “directly in dangerous positions.”
He told the Daily Express: “The notion that somehow there is a frontline into which you put men and a rear area where women can serve is no longer true in these sorts of wars. Women are already in the frontline.”
Yesterday an MoD spokesperson denied there were any plans to review the rules imminently, adding that women could still perform the majority of roles in the army. But as Joanne Mackowski, who is working on a PhD about gender in the military, told The Times the question is not going to go away. “This issue is not going to roll over and die and the Army has got to take a stance on it.”