Roles Available to Female Troops Expanded But Not Far Enough

February 16, 2012Katharine Nasielski

The Pentagon has announced that it will now allow women to participate in the Armed Forces in an unprecedented way: by allowing female troops to fill 14,000 more frontline jobs. The new policy will allow women to serve as frontline medics, helicopter pilots, and intelligence analysts. Effective immediately, women will now be permitted to live and work in small ground-combat units. This change will mean female service members can acquire more experience and eventually be considered for promotions to leadership within combat forces. However they will still be barred from serving in elite forces, like the Navy SEALs.

The role of women in the military has been a decades-long debate. Women have not been permitted to take part in direct combat or to be assigned to units below brigade level. Those who advocate against the unrestricted service of women fear that full integration would result in “internal dissension” and harm military morale— however, the Pentagon has assured the public that these fears are unfounded. This new policy seems to be the institutionalization of an informal change that has occurred over the last few years as the U.S. military has been involved in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over 150 women have been killed in these two war zones, and in Iraq alone, more women have been killed in conflict than the number of female troops killed in all the wars since World War II combined. This confirms that women are not far from the battle lines. The United States has been embarrassingly slow to include women in close combat roles. Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Sweden all allow women to be exposed to hostile fire or to serve in a more intense capacity than is permitted in the US. Many have said that this change in policy doesn’t go far enough to provide equal opportunity to women to serve our country and advance in their careers, and Secretary Panetta has made it clear that this is just the first step toward opening up jobs in the armed forces for women. More positions will become available in the months and years ahead, he said. Ensuring the rights of women to participate equally in defending our country is important, but we must not forget about the other rights currently denied to servicewomen. More than 400,000 women serve in the Armed Forces, and receive their health insurance from the Department of Defense’s Military Health System, which does not cover abortion services in the cases of rape or incest. Rather, servicewomen can only receive insurance coverage for abortion services if their lives are in danger. According to the Department of Defense’s Fiscal Year 2010 numbers, 3,158 military sexual assaults were reported. That number alone is shocking, but it is even more disturbing in light of the knowledge that many women who have experienced sexual violence do not report the incident. Researchers estimate that over time, taking into account the percentage of military sexual assaults that go unreported, up to one-third of women experience an attempted or completed rape during their military service. Although the Reform Movement believes insurance coverage of abortion should not be limited solely to cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is in danger, the Department of Defense—at the very least—should provide servicewomen with access to the same care available to the civilians they protect. Take action today and urge your Congressmen to co-sponsor the MARCH Act (H.R.2085/S.1214).   Photo courtesy of Department of Defense/Spc. Micah E. Clare, USA

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