This week marked the beginning of a new policy in the United States Army. Women are now allowed to hold positions related to direct combat in war zones, positions that they were expressly barred from holding in previous years and opening up thousands of new positions to them. According to the Associated Press, nine brigades are testing the new policy before expanding the job openings to women throughout the army.
It seems that part of the logic behind the policy shift lies in the realization that women have already been dying in combat in recent wars, doing jobs that were already dangerous without any kind of official recognition. This new policy, which allows women to hold positions such as field surgeons, intelligence sergeants and tank mechanics, now gives women the official recognition for their sacrifices in recent wars.
As a bill presented to the Senate and House of Representatives a year ago hoping to overturn gender inequalities in the military states, “As of April 1, 2011, 137 female members of the Armed Forces have been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, and, of the women killed, over 60 were killed in combat.” The numbers reflect that women are just as likely to be placed at the center of danger as men in modern war zones. This reticence on the part of military and political personnel to recognize the work of female soldiers feeds into a stereotype of female physical weakness.
As Kelly Hasselman, a unit commander in the Army, told Al Jazeera, “there are no front lines anymore,” which means that both men and women face the same danger in any war zone, no matter what their job title states. Women also receive the same difficult training but face gender discrimination in terms of promotions and respect from subordinates in the Armed Forces.
The Pentagon has still not overturned “The Ground Combat Exclusion Policy” which directly stops women from entering into official positions of direct combat in war zones, according to the Global Post. This policy has affected women’s ability to get promotions or be deployed on equal terms with their male counterparts. And while it remains a positive step in the right direction to open up job opportunities on an equal footing with male counterparts, the testing of this new policy in only nine brigades obscures the continued exclusion of women from a multitude of other jobs within the Armed Forces based on gender.
As combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq continue to bring about new deployments, women face the same discriminations even when they are now able to hold new jobs that were closed to them before. Their careers in the Armed Forces remain stunted based on official policies that discriminate against female bodies as an inferior and less-capable vessel in the context of war.
Photo Credit: The U.S. Army