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WIIS Forum Discusses the Removal of the Combat Exclusion- and the limitations of the policy change

SUMMARY: A forum on the integration of women into military combat positions suggests more progress needs to be made to change attitudes and the ‘band of brothers’ tradition. Having women in combat related jobs is not a new frontier – the Air Forces had female combat pilots during the 1990s, and Special Forces had women in Cultural Support Teams during combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The biggest hurdle for integrating women into combat roles, said many of the panelists, is finding gender-neutral standards for combat positions. Those standards, they said, should not affect military readiness, but should directly apply to the job that the standards test for.” Robert Egnell, professor at Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security says, “It’s [the military] about preservation, about maintenance of the existing order and that, to me, is an assumption that the existing organization is perfect and whatever we do to change it can only have negative or no impact if it’s done really, really well.” This attitude pervades debates about women in combat and their integration. It is time to change these attitudes to get true change in the military.

SOURCE: Miranda Leo, April 27 2015, ‘Military women gained since combat ban ended, still progress to be made,’ Cronkite News, http://cronkitenewsonline.com/2015/04/military-women-gained-since-combat-ban-ended-still-progress-to-be-made/

What are the Lessons from ‘Ashley’s War?’

SUMMARY: Dina Gachman provides a brief summary of Gayle Tzemach Lemmon’s book Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield, which follows a group of female soldier’s in the Special Ops Cultural Support Team (CST), on missions in Afghanistan. Gachman provides an anecdotal 7-point list about life lessons to learn from this book, and women in the military more generally.

  1. Female soldiers do their job for the same reasons as men
  • Lemmon says these motivations are “to be part of something bigger and to serve with the best of the best.”
  1. Female bonding gets them through tough situations
  • Lemmon characterises the CST as a “battlefield sisterhood.”
  1. A job well done stands out
  • Other soldiers embraced what these women were doing on the battlefield as “it helped them get their mission done.”
  1. You can be Feminine and Fierce
  • These women were described by Lemmon as a “fascinating mix of feminine, fierce and tough and warm… these are millenials.”
  1. Ordinary people can do extraordinary things
  2. Its about Leadership
  • These women “put their heart into it because they wanted to be part of something they truly believed in.”
  1. Women are not alone
  • “when women see one another for the first time, they realise ‘It’s not just me.’”

SOURCE: Dina Gachman, April 27 2015, ‘7 Career and life lessons inspired by women in the military, because they’re (sort of) just like us,’ Bustle, http://www.bustle.com/articles/77550-7-career-and-life-lessons-inspired-by-women-in-the-military-because-theyre-sort-of-just

Swiss Army female recruitment stagnates

SUMMARY: High ranking defence officials in the Swiss Army have supported recruiting more women, however, the fact is that only 0.6% of Switzerland’s militia army are women. Further to the point, there is very little interest from women to join the army. Women have been able to serve in the Swiss Army since 1995, and all roles have been open to them since 2004. Since the Norwegian Army recently announced it would start conscripting women in 2015, this may be a viable recruitment strategy for Switzerland. Sibilla Bondolfi wrote her law school dissertation on conscription of women and says, “it is quite remarkable that no one has really seriously taken it on, neither on a political nor a legal level, although it’s quite clear that there is a legal inequality taking place between the genders.” However as Tibor Szviercsev Tresch a military sociologist at the Swiss Federal Technology Institute ETH Zurich, says, “Conscription for women doesn’t have much of a chance” as support has been around 30% for a long time in Switzerland. Furthermore, the two armed forces are quite different with the Norwegian Army having 10% female forces, while the Swiss Army has less than 1%. It seems doubtful that conscription will be the way to recruit more women in the Swiss Army.

SOURCE: Swiss Info, April 24 2015, ‘Calls for women’s army service fall on deaf ears,’ Swiss Info, http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/military-reforms_calls-for-women-s-army-service-fall-on-deaf-ears/41378972

New documents reveal sex crimes committed by AFRICOM soldiers

SUMMARY: In April 2012 six deaths, three civilians and three American Special Ops commandos, occurred during an all-night bar crawl through Mali’s capital Bamako according to a formerly classified report by US Army criminal investigators. This was also months after the US suspended military relations with Mali’s government. US Africa Command (AFRICOM) is responsible for military commands on the continent, leading a record 674 missions in 2014 alone. As military operations on the continent increase, US male soldiers have also perpetrated more crimes, including sexual assault, drug use and other violent crimes. This information has been collected from legal documents, Pentagon reports, and criminal investigation files obtained by TomDispatch through Freedom of Information Act requests. In recent years the US military has faced allegations of widespread sex crimes, and the documents revealed by TomDispatch reveal that the problem persists in AFRICOM. One pentagon reports three incidents in Dijibouti in 2013, one instance of ‘abusive sexual contact’ and two of ‘wrongful sexual contact.’ Given the gross underreporting of sex crimes in the military, according to the Pentagon, it is highly likely the numbers reveleaed in these reports are accurate. Regardless, there are numerous other crimes and occurrences that suggest malfeasance, yet AFRICOM have “downplayed, disguised, or covered up almost every aspect of its operations.”

SOURCE: Nick Turse, April 22 2015, ‘Sex crimes, drugs and dead soldiers: The US military’s secret African Shame,’ Salon, http://www.salon.com/2015/04/22/sex_drugs_and_dead_soldiers_the_u_s_military_partner/

Defense Secretary discusses women in combat and potential problems for recruitment

SUMMARY: Defense Secretary Ash Carter noted in an address to reserve officer trainees at Georgetown University that the military’s sexual assault problem could deter new recruits from the forces. Carter noted that the department had ‘achieved some success in dealing with the problem, implementing 150 congressional and Pentagon directives in recent years to curb sexual assault and encourage reporting of the crime.’ Yet according to a 2014 study, 18,900 military service members, more than half of who are men, had experienced unwanted sexual contact, with only a fraction reporting the incident.

In the same address, Carter told cadets that he is optimistic that all combat positions may be open to women by January 2016. He said in response to a question from a female cadet about whether all positions would be open to women, “I think most will, maybe all will, I don’t know…. I think for way too long I think we’ve underestimated how well we can do. I talked about us being a learning organization, we can learn this too so I’m pretty optimistic.”

SOURCES: David Alexander, April 22 2015, ‘Pentagon chief warns sexual assault problem could deter recruits,’ Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/22/us-usa-defense-assault-idUSKBN0ND2FA20150422
Jacqueline Klimas, April 22 2015, ‘Ashton Carter: ‘Maybe’ all combat jobs will be open to women in January,’ The Washington Times, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/apr/22/carter-maybe-all-combat-jobs-open-women-by-january/

Kazakhstan military uses sexist recruitment strategy

SUMMARY: The Kazakhstan Ministry of Defence has created a “Miss Army” photo competition in a bid to recruit more soldiers to the forces. The Ministry posted photos online of 123 of its ‘prettiest female soldiers’ in three different poses – in uniform, with weapons and in civilian clothing. The strategy is predicated on the sexist and hetero-normative assumption that young men will join the forces if they are attracted to the ‘pretty’ female soldiers.

SOURCE: Simon Tomlinson, April 10 2015, ‘Borat’s call of Beauty?’ The Dailymail, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3033505/Kazakhstan-military-unveils-123-prettiest-soldiers-bid-attract-recruits.html

Pentagon evaluates policy regarding Transgender troops


Sergeant Shane Ortega has served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, two as a woman and one as a man, yet he has not been able to serve openly as a man for the simple fact he was born female. The US military continues to identify Ortega as a female, and Ortega says, “Administratively I shouldn’t exist.” Ortega’s transition did not affect his service, and he meets all the physical standards of a male soldier, yet he was barred from flight duties in mid 2014 for elevated testosterone levels, the result of hormones taken to support his transition. Ortega has now been cleared of ‘gender dysphoria’ and is expected to fly later this month. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a petition in September 2014 on behalf of Ortega and other transgender soldiers who face separation and dismissal proceedings.

As it stands, the Pentagon requires transgender troops be discharged from the military, usually on medical grounds due to its classification as a ‘mental disorder that makes someone unfit to serve.’

This policy is largely controversial for President Obama, who has expanded the legal protections on the basis of gender identity, condemned conversion therapy and advocated for the rights of transgender prisoners. It seems that LGBTIQ people can serve openly in the military except if you are ‘T’. With an estimated 15,500 transgender members in the military, the Pentagon in August 2014 asked each service to evaluate rules regarding transgender members that label them unfit for service, with results released 12 – 18months later. In the interim, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter have supported the idea of allowing Americans to serve irrespective of gender identity, and that disqualification on the sole basis of gender-identity is insufficient. In light of the political challenges around removing the combat exclusion for women and DADT, will there be a change of policy?

SOURCE: Juliet Eilperin, April 9 2015, ‘Transgender in the military: A pentagon in transition weighs its policy,’ The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/transgender-in-the-military-a-pentagon-in-transition-weighs-its-policy/2015/04/09/ee0ca39e-cf0d-11e4-8c54-ffb5ba6f2f69_story.html

Transgender woman wins Discrimination Case Against US Army

SUMMARY: Tamara Lusardi has served in the US army for nearly three decades. Five years ago she decided to transition from a male to female gender identity and faced serious workplace discrimination as a result. After 3 years of legal proceedings, with the first complaint filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2012, the commission decided in her favour on April 1 2015, in a landmark decision that protects transgender employees across all federal agencies. Army Spokesperson Wayne V Hall has stated the military branch will comply with the EEOC decision, despite a right to appeal within 30 days. If uncontested, Lusardi will gain compensatory damages, access to female facilities and guaranteed prevention of future harassment or retaliatory action. However, this decision will not change military policy banning transgender people from uniformed service as it only applies to US civilian government employees, says the Legal Director for the Transgender Law Centre.

SOURCE: Max Blau, April 9 2015, ‘Alabama transgender woman wins discrimination case against US Army,’ The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/apr/09/alabama-transgender-woman-tamara-lusardi

The New Zealand Defence Forces female recruitment falls below 15%, despite efforts to enhance equality

Summary: The New Zealand Defence Force had less than 15% female recruits in 2013/14, a number that was deemed “disturbing” by Lieutenant Colonel Louisa O’Brien, a woman serving 28 years in the forces. O’Brien attributes the culture of the military and its unwavering rigidity to this shocking decline in female recruits. There is still a perception that the military is a male-centric domain, and “overcoming the image of military life being a man’s life was a challenge in recruitment.” The Ministry of Defence has commissioned a report at the end of 2013 to determine how best to maximize opportunities for women in the defence forces.

Source: Aimee Gulliver, April 8 2015, ‘ Low Female Defence Force recruit numbers ‘disturbing,’ Stuff.Co, http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/67645891/low-female-defence-force-recruit-numbers-disturbing

Last female in Marine Corp’s ‘dropped’ from Infantry Officer Course

Summary: The Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course (IOC) was gender-integrated in September 2012 in an attempt to evaluate the ‘feasibility of opening ground combat jobs to women.’ However no female volunteers have successfully completed the course. Even though eligibility requirements for the IOC expanded in order to meet the goal of 100 female volunteers, there were only 27 female officers who attempted the course throughout the two and a half year testing phase, with 4 passing the Combat Endurance Test. This is not the end for women in combat, as further research and analysis is needed, including a comparison of the Infantry Training Battalion Course, which had a higher pass rate of 44% for female Marines.

SOURCE: Hope Hodge Seck, April 7 2015, ‘Last IOC in Marine infantry experiment drops female officers,’ Marine Corps Times, http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/story/military/2015/04/07/last-ioc-in-marine-experiment-drops-two-officers/25418867/