On Thursday the Pentagon lifted a long-time ban on women serving in front line combat zones, two years after it scrapped the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, signed an order at a Pentagon news conference rescinding the rule that prevented women from serving in direct combat roles.
Removing the ban on women is considered to be a huge step towards gender equality, but it’s actually just stating publicly what has already been happening over the past decade. Although women were previously barred from infantry, armoured and special operations units, the realities of the past decade of war have blurred the lines of distinction.
Whether people want to acknowledge it or not, women have played a major role in conflict zones over the years, even while their theoretical fitness to serve was being debated back home. At the moment women make up about 14% of the military’s 1.4 million active members and more than 280,000 of them have done tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and other overseas bases. Of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, 152 have been killed, including 84 in hostile action, and nearly 1,000 have been wounded. It seems lifting the ban is more about giving women the correct job titles.
The move could, however, open some 237,000 potential job titles to women and expand opportunities for career advancement, provided they pass the gender-neutral performance standards.
As Panetta puts it:
“Let me be clear. We are not talking about reducing the qualifications for the job. If they can meet the qualifications for the job, then they should have the right to serve regardless of creed or color or gender or sexual orientation.”
While Obama has expressed strong support for the new policy, as have many civilian and military leaders from the different services, there have been some mixed reactions. Retired General Jerry Boykin is one such case. For him the issue comes down to personal hygiene:
“As a man who has been there, […] I certainly don’t want to be in that environment with a female because it’s degrading and humiliating enough to do your personal hygiene and the other normal functions among your teammates.”
Hmm. If the Taliban were shooting at me, I doubt I’d be worried about my personal hygiene.
Anyways…. Boykins all over can continue fighting about whether or not this ban on women in combat should be lifted, but the fact is women have been and will continue to fight on the front lines. Instead of ignoring this or telling them they’re not allowed, perhaps they should thank them?