Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Women for the Front Line?

Federal Defence Personnel Minister, Greg Combet, has indicated the Federal Government wants to break down military gender barriers in the Defence Forces. The intent is to attract more women to the forces, and allow them to join combat units. Mr Combet wants physical capability, rather than gender, to be one of the determining factors. Women currently make up 13% of the forces, not in combat roles, and the Government would like to increase the proportion of women in the defence forces.

But Liberal backbencher and former infantry officer Stuart Robert thinks the idea is "outrageous". He went on to say "My concern is that really only Israel and a handful of countries whose very existence is threatened have gone down this path - the rest of the Western world hasn't" . He forgot to mention women in the Chinese and Russian military; hardly nations facing extinction! Also, his statement, per se, is not an argument for not allowing women in combat roles. Just because we, and others, haven't done it before, doesn't mean we shouldn't.

There will be women fitter than many Australian men. The criteria should only be whether service personnel can do the tasks required of the job. There are men who want to join particular combat units, but who are rejected. Just ask anyone who wanted to be a submariner, or join the SAS.

The Defence Forces should not lower physical and mental standards for combat units. That would be embarrassing, even humiliating to the men, and women, who joint the unit. But gender is not an argument for denying anyone the opportunity to train and be assessed.