Australia lifts ban on women in military combat roles

An Australian soldier Merit, rather than gender, will determine military roles

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Australia has lifted all restrictions on the roles that women can carry out in its armed forces.

Suitably-qualified female soldiers will be able to serve in the special forces and front-line combat units.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith said the ban would be lifted immediately but may take up to five years to implement. Critics described the move as premature and a gimmick.

Canada, New Zealand and Israel already allow women in all military roles.

Australia's military has about 59,000 full-time members, including 1,500 who are serving in Afghanistan.

Currently women are eligible for about 93% of roles, including artillery duties.

'All equal'

With the lifting of the ban, they will be able to fill the remaining 7%, so long as they are physically and psychologically qualified.

As well as combat roles, they will be eligible to serve in special forces units, if they can meet the entry standards.

Mr Smith said the move is "a logical extension to the very strongly held view in Australian society that all of us are equal irrespective of our backgrounds and irrespective of our sex".

He added: "From this day forward... no combat roles, no front-line role will be excluded from an Australian on the basis of his or her sex, it will be open to anyone to apply on the basis of merit.

"This is a significant and major cultural change."

Sex scandal

Critics have described the move as "political gimmick".

The head of the Australian Defence Association lobby group, Neil James, said the government was "jumping the gun" on research currently being carried out by defence officials about women's abilities in a military context.

"It doesn't actually give us a lot of confidence that this is anything more than another political gimmick and a distraction," Mr James told ABC radio.

The Australian defence establishment is also currently reviewing sexual abuse within the military after a sex scandal at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

The review received such a high volume of complaints - more than 1,000 allegations of abuse - that it was extended by a month, and is due to report on 30 September.

Investigations began after two cadets from the academy were accused of secretly filming a female cadet having sex and broadcasting it on the internet.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Good luck to the first women to go through Paratrooper and/or SAS selection.

    Pretty sure there will only be a few who try and then fail.

    If they can fair play but fairly certain the physical aspect will be too much, also i echo the sentiment that it will be divisive in regiments, squads etc and cause way more problems than its worth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    We run the risk of politically correcting ourselves into losing a war against people who think women should have no rights at all. It's not about equality, it's about unit cohesion, and the presence of women in a combat unit is devisive. I'm female, a graduate Engineer and an ardent feminist, but I want an army that wins not one that faffs around 'reflecting society'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Mmm...i wonder how many people who think this is a good idea, have actually been in combat. Theres no place for sexual politics in a combat situation. Yes, women can be there, but not in an actual warfighting role. This is where Aussie govt has made a mistake. This is not the sports field. I cannot see women coping with the nasty, extreme violence of warfare. The Australian army is now weaker.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I don't see why this is a big deal at all. If someone can do a job they should be allowed to do it, regardless of genders or other irrelevant characteristics. Besides, does anyone actually think that terrorists would only attack soldiers in those 7% combat roles? Of course not - they ambush and bomb any enemy they can hurt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Provided that the entry requirements are the same (if a man has to be able to run 15k with 100lb then so should a woman) it would seem reasonable. Furthermore, perhaps experiments should be conducted to examine the effects on male soldiers of having female soldiers present during combat scenarios to ensure there are no behavioral changes.


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