Shattered Ceilings: Lifting the Ban on Women in Combat

Photo by United States Marine Corps, Official Page.

In a press briefing last week, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta announced that the military is lifting its official ban on women in combat, overturning the 1994 Pentagon stipulation restricting women from artillery, armor, and infantry roles.

Today, women make up approximately 15% of the US military. Moreover, since the beginning of the Iraq and Afghan Wars, over 144 female troops have been killed and more than 860 have been wounded. Given that American women have frequently found themselves in the line of combat despite these restrictions, this change in policy seems appropriate and necessary step in the right direction towards transforming the military into a more open and equitable arena.

This decision also comes at a moment when the rights of women in the United States have been contested in more ways than one with regards to policies and laws. For instance, the House of Representatives failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, allowing critical rape and domestic violence programs to silently expire earlier this month. Additionally, the year 2012 saw the second highest number of abortion restrictions (43) signed into law in a single year of American history. Amidst this atmosphere of conservatism vis a vis the autonomy and rights of women, it is both surprising and encouraging that the military has taken such a forward action to include women among all of its ranks. The fact that 66% of all Americans are in favor of the lifting of the ban further signals that such a move towards gender inclusion in one of the nation’s most key institutions is in line with the values and desires of many, if not most, people.

However, we should keep in mind that lifting the ban is only the first step in making the military a place where women are able to flourish in service to the country. The fact remains that almost half of all women currently serving in the military have experienced sexual harassment while in a war zone, and approximately 22.8% have reported sexual assault while deployed. As such, it will take a concerted effort on the part of the military to create a culture which not only accepts women within its ranks in theory, but also in practice. With the lifting of the ban, it is possible that women in the military will have more avenues to lobby against discrimination as servicewomen—as such, it is an exciting change that will hopefully transform the face of the American military into one that is more inclusive and equitable, as it should strive to be.

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1 Comment

  1. It disgusts me as a woman and an American that people in this country are more interested in the issue of women in combat than the fact that one in three women serving is raped or sexually assaulted.

    This move wasn’t made for equality but for women to shut up about the assaults. It makes them look weak and they won’t want to do that if they can serve in combat. It also takes the spotlight off the problem

    Women in the military should be ashamed that they have turned a blind eye to sexual assault. The fact that it has become so epic shows people have kept silent.

    When this country fixes that problem then lets talk about women in combat!

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