Last Friday the Pentagon took another step towards gender equality by allowing women to serve in front-line combat positions. Major Mary Hegar, a helicopter pilot who joined an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit to open combat jobs to women said the decision was ‘a huge leap forward’.
The move could open some 237,000 positions to women and expand opportunites for career advancement but acceptance into the jobs is not assured and will be based on gender-neutral standards.
‘There are no guarantees of success’ said US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta at the announcement. ‘Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier. But everyone is entitled to a chance.’
In the UK, women can fly combat aircraft and serve on warships and submarines. They can also enrol in the artillery and engineers which often means they are in the front line though they cannot actually engage in combat.
The US ruling means is likely to be only a matter of time before the same chance is given to UK women. At the moment the only obstacle is the idea that chivalric values could make male soldiers over-protective of women during combat, described as causing ‘team cohesion issues’.
“There is no question that some women would be able to meet the standard required of personnel performing in close-combat roles, both physically and psychologically” the MOD reported in 2011. The MOD is obliged to repeat the review every 8 years under the European Community Equal Treatment Directive.
(Reuters and Guardian 25.01.13)