Fight not yet over for US military women in battle for equality

Fight not yet over for US military women in battle for equality

Two women have made US military history after becoming the first female soldiers to pass the Army’s gruelling Ranger course, but they will not be able to serve on the frontlines while the ban on women in combat roles remains.

NEW YORK: Climbing, crawling, carrying their own weight and then some through a gruelling 62 day course, Lieutenant Shaye Haver and Captain Kristen Griest emerged from the Army’s rigorous Ranger School unscathed, the first female soldiers to graduate from the programme in its 63 year history.

Griest and Haver are trained to fight and protect, but female soldiers are currently banned from serving in combat positions in the US armed services.

It is a rule officials are now reconsidering. Women could roll into combat as soon as 2016. Katie Holden, a former US Marine, said it is about time the armed services make room for females on the frontlines.

“To only have one part of the population and cut out that other part, that's got completely different experience that could probably bring context to the operations and the people we are interacting with overseas, seems like we are doing ourselves a disservice," said Holden.

This desire to better integrate women into the US Armed Services is nothing new. After the World Wars and Vietnam, women pushed for a more active role in their military. But when terrorism hit home on September 11 with attacks in New York City and Washington DC, priorities changed.

"We were doing a lot of women's health research prior to that,” said Dr Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, a psychiatrist and chief clinical officer of District of Columbia Department of Mental Health. “When the planes hit the Pentagon and New York City, we went to war and the priorities shifted."

Ritchie is a former soldier who published a book on the challenges facing women on the front-line. She says females are fit to fight with the men, but that some provisions are not being adequately addressed.

"Women are wearing diapers because there is not a safe place for them to safely urinate,” said Ritchie. “If you are in Afghanistan, you can't just go behind a bush, because you may be shot or blown up by a bomb."

Officials have just moved to make contraceptives more wildly available to women serving abroad - a step to address a rise in unwanted pregnancies and discomfort among service members.

Ritchie says it is a small but necessary step forward to help woman overcome obstacles to advancement in the military, while some barriers they can break on their own.

Source: CNA/ec