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Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 09:51 GMT 10:51 UK
Should women be allowed to serve in combat?
The ban on women soldiers serving in frontline combat roles is to remain in place, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has announced.

Mr Hoon said that he was not prepared to "risk" the combat effectiveness of the armed forces by introducing women into all-male combat-fighting units.

The defence secretary said the existing policy would remain unchanged, following a two-year review of the Army's bar on women serving with the infantry or in tank crews.

The decision was welcomed by the Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, who said that allowing women into frontline combat roles would have been an "irresponsible experiment".

But Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Paul Keetch warned the ruling could be open to legal challenge in terms of equality of opportunity.

Should women be allowed to serve in combat? Is there equality of opportunity for women in the armed forces?

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

As people have said before some women can meet the challenges and by rights should be able to serve in what ever manner they wish to and can do so effectively. Of course it is also a very valid point that the men do not perform as effectively when women are around, and lives should not be put at risk because of this. So in summary the men are blaming the women for not being capable when some oviously are and in fact it is the MEN who are to weak to control there own actions when women are involved! Stop blaming the women's strength and state the real reason!
Laura, UK

If a few women can pass the same tests as their male counterparts, I say let them join- after all, these must be truly exceptional females with exceptional stamina and mentality.

I find it sad to hear people talk about this issue as if it represents the logical conclusion of female emancipation and the granting of equality. To me it represents the right for women to be debased to the same moral depths as those to which men's aggressive characters have always dragged them. Call me a sentimental chauvinist but what is so great about being a state sponsored murderer anyway?
Ian, UK

FN (UK) says that "most women's bodies would not stand up to the physically demanding combat role in the army." Claptrap! There is ample research which shows that women have more stamina and a higher pain threshold than men. Do not equate brute strength with fitness. Women are also less prone to think they are Rambo.
Guy Chapman, UK

Unless moral standards in the UK degenerate to the level where people will not want to help women or children in distress, women should not be in the front line. Note the Seaman's tradition of Women and Children First! Putting sentimentality to the side, the hard reality is that the country needs children for the future. Physiology restricts a woman to an average of one child per year at most whilst a man could father several children in one day! Women can significantly contribute to our fighting fore without exposure to the risk of being killed. Let men do the impulsive stuff they are good at and let women do the planning/'nurturing' stuff they are good at.
Graham, UK

It's men that start these stupid wars - let them fight them in their own way and leave me out of it!
F Critchley, Switzerland (ex UK)

I was in Kosovo when two people had their first lovers tiff while on guard duty.

Simon, Oxford
I served in a field unit in the armed forces for many years when it was "Men only". This was because it involved working in extremely arduous conditions. Eventually, women were allowed in, and I can remember when we had our first "delivery" of ladies, and most of the blokes changed instantly. They started puffing their chests out, wrestling with each other and showing off and generally being put off their duties. Also situations arose where people were sleeping around behind each other's backs, and good mates became enemies. I was in Kosovo when two people had their first lovers tiff while on guard duty. Not very good when you are trying not to give your position away! So this is why I believe that women should not be on the front line, as the relationships that people naturally develop are not good for combat effectiveness.
Simon, Oxford, England

Although I don't personally see why anyone would WANT to fight in a war if they didn't have to, if you applied the same physical, medical and psychological requirements to front-line troops, regardless of their gender, the argument about ability would pretty much be null-and-void. And the whole women need more privacy idea is based more on social inhibitions rather than on any actual need by women. Surely if someone has the ability and aptitude to serve on the front line, regardless of sex, they should be able to do so. Especially since this country has an ever aging population. Pretty soon there won't be many young men OR women left to do the fighting. Time to call up all those veterans, maybe?
Shaun, UK

It is true that most woman's bodies would not stand up to the physically demanding combat role in the army. Then again, neither would some men's. Fitness tests should not be lowered for women, but they should be allowed to compete against men, with all tests being equal. True, not many would pass - not all men pass either. But some women may be up to the challenge, and they should be given that chance.

The person's sex shouldn't come into it

James, Australia
I think if the person is suited for a combat role, man or woman they should be allowed to fight in the front line infantry. The person's sex shouldn't come into it.
James, Australia

The physical demands of real combat situations are daunting, e.g. carrying 150 pounds of gear on your back for 20 miles. Women's bodies simply would not hold up under these stresses and strains. We must draw the line of political correctness where it starts to get people killed.
Paul, USA

For the past century, women have been protesting for all the goodies that men have had for centuries, such as the right to vote and equal pay for equal work. Basically everything that men can do, women want to do also. Well guess what? Men also have had to fight and die in countless wars for their countries. Are women willing to take that "step towards equality" also?
Dan M, Canada

Warfare is about killing or being killed. The fittest, toughest women cannot match the fittest, toughest men. Civilian thinking should not cloud military judgement.
Hugh Payne, England

One of my friends is a commando, and we had a discussion about this very thing. His argument was that, even though he is a good soldier, if he saw a woman in trouble, no matter how tough, he would have to help. Maybe he is the only decent bloke in the army, but you can't argue with that.
Paula, UK

Why not start a separate regiment for women?

Jay Green, UK
Everyone here keeps talking about integrating women into existing men's regiments. Why not start a separate regiment for women who can go onto the "front line"? Its a nonsense that women are expected to bear the sons for countries to send into war, but can't fight for their countries in organised regiments. If women are so weak and feeble why is it that "traditional" female sports are ALL non-contact? If you've ever played Hockey with a group of girls you'd most definitely want them on the front line.....
Jay Green, UK

As far as I can see all of the comments on this section are based on a limited view of combat. If you look at the history of the last century almost all the real wars involved many more civilian deaths than military. Women became involved in combat at many levels including in WW2 in the front lines. Most of the objections seem to be about involving women in small units and disrupting the efficiency of current remote 'defence' operations. In the case of fight for life situation we would all have to become involved as history has shown we stand a good chance of being killed anyway.
AES UK, England

Why not stop wars instead? There is NO need to have soldiers, men or women. The army concept is one of the oldest and most primitive conceptions of the human kind and I honestly hope we can live without it, in the near future!
Sandra R., Italy/UK

It's not a case of whether or not women should be allowed onto the front line. Combat squads should be single sex, single gender, be it all male heterosexuals or all female heterosexuals. That is the only way you could ensure that the 'sexual' emotions could not affect combat effectiveness. It's as simple as that.
JD, England

Women can and do make an excellent contribution to the more cerebral roles within the armed forces

Steve Brown, UK
One further point is that women have a much lower bone density than men, which makes them far more susceptible to injuries, causing further strain on battlefield resources. Though women can and do make an excellent contribution to the more cerebral roles within the armed forces, men have fundamental physiological attributes that makes it easier for them to be 'beasted' up a hill with 40kilos on their backs without damaging themselves.
Steve Brown, UK

Women's ability to fight is not the issue here, although it is a fact women are physically weaker than men. Men have always had an emotional instinct to protect women which can't be ignored. It could result in soldiers putting the lives of their infantry at risk in order to protect those they are emotionally connected to. We're just lucky that this decision was based on common sense and they resisted pressure from the PC brigade. War is no place for equality.
R Callister, UK

14 years service as an Infantry Officer taught me that NOTHING must undermine combat effectiveness. This is not a question of equality but of operational effectiveness and even the most minute diminution of this can lead to loss of life. This is completely unacceptable.
Jimmy, UK

The military is not a social experiment. There is no need for women in combat. It can only hinder the military objective of defending the country.

The only barrier that I can see is the squeamishness of the men

Graham Rodhouse, The Netherlands
Women have been serving in branches of the armed forces in most countries for years. It is logical that they should be considered for combat roles, if they wish. The only barrier that I can see is the squeamishness of the men.
Graham Rodhouse, The Netherlands

I think some of the blokes in here should get out a bit more, and meet some of the incredibly aggressive females currently at large in our society - they'd soon stop carrying on about the female's lack of aggression! While I have no desire to join the army, let alone serve in the front line, if a woman can pass the tests that a man has to, she should be allowed to serve in the same places. I seem to recall, however, that a couple of US women pilots who were captured, I think it was in the Gulf, who were subjected to sexual assault. So any woman wanting to go to the front line should be left in no doubt as to her probable treatment in time of war (and its consequences for her and her comrades, male or female). Having considered that, if they still want to go, let them.

It's interesting to note that women throughout the ages have proved themselves to be fiercest fighters yet still today we are convinced that because 99% of women aren't able to meet the physical requirements set for men, they aren't able to stand up to modern battle. Perhaps we are forgetting the other 1% who I am quite certain are able to put up a better fight than many of the "tubby" soldiers we have in today's forces. Common sense needs to prevail and a standard (only one) which is required by both men and females to reach in order to serve.
Sam, Australia

Having served in the Royal Signals both with and without integrated servicewomen, I can safely agree with the right honourable gentleman Mr Hoon. There was a decided reduction in the effectiveness of our unit once the WRAC integration had occurred in '91. Why should an armed forces charged with the defence of ones realm be forced into political correctness that could reduce its combat effectiveness/readiness in its "teeth" or forward arms/units? Women have their place in the Army no doubt, just not in a reduction of physical standards nor at lowering of our countries defence capabilities
Nick F, UK

My grand mother fought with Pancho Villa in the Mexican Revolution and rose to the rank of Colonel. And when the war was over, she was given (an ejido) lots of land as a reward. I served in the Mexican Army as a First Lieutenant. And from the U.S. Air Force I retired as a Master Sergeant with 28 years of Active Military Duty. So I know, "Women make mean fighters." Let them join!
Ramon V. Elizarraras, Mexico/USA

I keep hearing the term equality being used but when it comes down to it, women are physically not as tough as men. It's all very well to argue about equal opportunities, but there are some facts of life that cannot be altered. In front line warfare, which could conceivably come down to hand-to-hand fighting, a woman would be unmatched to a man. What responsible commander would send troops into combat with less than favourable odds?
A Hurst, Germany

I think this debate is really about what is a defence force for? If the purpose of the defence force is to perpetuate ideas about gender equality, then by all means let women serve in front line units. But if a defence force is about defending the country to the best of its ability, until I see women playing international rugby, or driving F1 cars as fast as men can, I refuse to accept that they have a place in the performance-intensive arena of front line combat.
Tim Harkness, South Africa

I suspect this subject has nothing to do with the physical and mental toughness of women. The problem is how men and women cope working together in the type of situations combat can bring. It doesn't matter who might find this difficult (it has been suggested men might), it will cause problems. I therefore don't think it's a good idea to have women joining men in front line combat.
Adam, England

The suggestion is ridiculous. Having spent 18years in the army I can safely say that putting women in the front line would be a disaster. In my experience they are not suited to army life let alone front line life.
Pete, Scotland

I served 10 years in the Army, where women were given administrational type of roles. In the mid 90s, the WRAC was disbanded and women were integrated into the regiments. At the same time they were given the same pay as their male counter parts, why? Women in the UK armed forces do not have to pass the physical tests at the same standards as men. Therefore why should they be paid the same let alone serve in the front line. Women in the armed forces are high maintenance - their needs are totally different.
Dan, UK

This issue has nothing to do with ability and everything to do with interaction and relationships. I remember helping to host one of HMS ships on its first experimental Gulf patrol to include Wrens. The women seemed to be good quality sailors but attracted so much attention from their male counterparts that little fifes or protectorates had formed on the ship. Additionally, the (apres party) behaviour of both sexes whilst on R & R could have been somewhat risky in the Middle East. Out of earshot of the wardroom, virtually all experienced crew declared the experiment a total failure and a potential liability in combat. The only winners being divorce lawyers back home. Equality is a laudable aim but not at the cost of lives.
Andrew, British ex-pat

Like it or not and despite the madness of political correctness and people being scared to voice an opinion otherwise, physically male troops are stronger, faster, have more stamina than a woman - this is not sexism, its a simple fact of life - just check athletics world records. Men are simply stronger. However, women are every bit as clever as men and there is clearly a role in support services such as driving, intelligence, operating equipment. But front line? No, not when the defence of the country depends on it.
Scott MacIntyre, Scotland

An army is not a democracy. It is an organization used for the defence of one's country, and if it is better able to perform that duty with all-male troops, so be it. An army's effectiveness should be put first, not it's sensitivity.
Rhys David Haug, USA

Of course it's not a good idea to put women in the front line - and the only reason the question even arises is that so many people today have (thank God)no understanding of what combat actually involves. You might equally well suggest that women should have equal representation in World Cup football teams. At least when the team lost nobody would get killed.
Alex Swanson, UK

In order to have them qualify for infantry duty a double standard would have to be applied

David Lindwall, USA
As a retired 1st SGT Airborne Infantry (Vietnam) I don't think this would be a wise move. Female personal tend to use up more resources i.e. washing, food, privacy. This adds an unneeded burden for troop units deploying in the field. Add this to the fact that in order to have them qualify for infantry duty a double standard would have to be applied - such as exists in the current Airborne Training in the US where females have different PT requirements. Add this to the problem of placing different sexes in their prime breeding age together on a long operation can only lead to trouble.
David Lindwall , USA

Frankly, it's a pity that women were let into any combat roles, including ships and fighter jets. Although the proportion of them that would pass the physical tests would be less than men, this is really not the issue. The problem is that in mixed units relationships will form; and the stress of sending someone off to die - or being sent yourself - when a relationship exists is too much for anyone to bear. Plenty of brothers serve in the same Army regiments, but they are always split up from each other for this very reason
Rupert, UK

It seems to me that combat units have different physical standards. e.g. the SAS and Marines have higher standards that perhaps other units. Why not have a unit that has standards that women can reasonable qualify for. Then men who would not meet the grade in other units but wanted to serve would also be given an opportunity. It would all be based on standards to be achieved not on gender, race or disability.
Gary Blackwood, England

People should be judged on their capability to do the job, whether they are male or female is immaterial. It is wrong to generalise by saying all men are better at one thing and all women are better at another thing.
Andrew Trimby, UK

"Bryn Monnery, UK" spoke of the "immaturity of their male colleagues" but indeed the vast majority of soldiers are 18-21 years old, and both genders of this age are well-known for being immature in a mixed gender setting, idealism shouldn't trump reality, mixed gender ranks in combat-likely infantry units will be disastrous. However, with "defence forces" like those of most European states, where seeing actual combat is very unlikely, mixed gender units may be possible, but with that, they'll pay a real price in effectiveness.
Stephen, USA

The problem in these cases is the immaturity of their male colleagues.

Bryn Monnery, UK
I have served alongside women in the reserve forces in both the Infantry and Artillery and I do not believe the majority of women are capable of doing the job. This is however only the majority, as ever there are exceptions, and I have met two women who could hold their own and even outperform their male counterparts. Should these women be excluded? In my opinion they should not, as the problem in these cases is the immaturity of their male colleagues.
Surely, those who make the grade should be integrated into infantry platoons, and I can see no reason why women should not be part of the RAC as their smaller stature should be an asset in the cramped confines of an AFV.
Bryn Monnery, UK

Having previously served in the Canadian Militia in an Engineering Squadron, and being a female, I strongly believe that if a female can prove she is of equal strength to males, then she should have every right and opportunity to serve in a combat role. Having witnessed the unit accept their first female engineer, I can say that gender was an issue, but that the men in the unit accepted the her as she had to pass all the physical strength tests they did, and on many occasions surpassed them. I do not think that all women would have the strength or mental toughness to cope with combat roles, but then neither do all men! I say let women have their chance if they wish, as long as they comply to the standards already set.

Absolutely not. I was a full time professional soldier and would have dreaded having to worry about women serving alongside me in combat, or even in some tough conditions I've been faced with. Flying jet planes and helicopters, no problem. They have proven they are equal to men in the brains department, but with the odd exception they are just not built to take the kind of physical abuse or punishment that front line troops have to endure.
Baz, UK

If women are to be considered equal to men, then how can we be banned from the fighting in the front lines? Obviously, there is a double standard and once again we see that even in this day and age, equality does not exist.
Shana Annis, USA

Equality shouldn't come into the equation when discussing the armed forces

Gavin Mortimer, UK
Firstly, equality shouldn't come into the equation when discussing the armed forces: the military is a unique occupation whose job is to safeguard British interests, it matters not a jot whether there is equality just as long as combat effectiveness is maintained. Women just don't possess the requisite physical strength and aggression needed to serve as an infantry soldier. That is a biological fact with which even the most rabid feminist could not argue. Thus the only way women would be able to gain entry into the infantry is if the physical entry requirements were made easier for them, but that would lower the impeccable standards of the British Army, pound for pound the most effective military force in the world, and raise the following question: is it worth compromising Britain's security for the sake of political correctness?
Gavin Mortimer, UK

Women should be allowed to work in some way within the army, although they shouldn't be given the same roles as men - women are physically weaker and mentally different. Men have the physical and mental (hormonal) upper hand when it comes to combat. Its completely beyond me why any woman would want to be involved in the first place though. What's wrong with being feminine? There is no need for women to keep trying to prove that they are just as 'masculine' as men - we're not and we should revel in the differences between the sexes rather than try and stamp them out.
Josie, UK

For years, I have had a strict policy of only dating women who were capable of handling a gun, throwing a knife, and strangling a man with piano wire. Trust me, the women are ready for combat. Its men that are not ready to see them in that role.
Lance B., USA

See also:

22 May 02 | UK Politics
22 Feb 01 | UK Politics
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