Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - US generals sign off women soldiers going into combat for the first time - 24 January

Women could soon be fighting alongside men in the United States military, following a landmark ruling by senior American officers.

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 24 January

US generals sign off women soldiers going into combat for the first time

By Darren Evans

Women could soon be fighting alongside men in the United States military, following a landmark ruling by senior American officers.

The decision to overturn the ban on women serving in combat roles looks likely to be imminently approved by the American defence secretary Leon Panetta, the politician in charge of the army, navy and air force.

The groundbreaking move will open up hundreds of thousands of front-line positions, including possible elite commando jobs, to women. It does look likely that certain specific roles will, however, remain closed to women.

Women have fought alongside men in various militaries throughout history, but many countries have banned them from serving on the front lines, sometimes for physical and psychological reasons, and sometimes giving social and cultural justification.

The US military has always had a near-universal ban on women serving in direct combat roles, but in recent years that has been reviewed and relaxed.

Last year the Pentagon – the headquarters of the American armed forces – opened up about 14,500 positions closer to the front line, mostly in the army, to women for the first time. Females currently make up just 14 per cent of the 1.4 million active personnel – taking up jobs as medics, military police and intelligence officers attached to front line units in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

As of 2012, more than 800 women have been wounded, and at least 130 have died in service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The new move could see more than 230,000 new jobs opened up, many in army and marine infantry units. Some could come as soon as later this year, but assessments for others, including special forces roles, could take longer.

American senator Carl Levin, a senior American politician, welcomed the decision to allow women in combat roles. “It reflects the reality of 21st century military operations," he said.

But others are concerned about the move. Elaine Donnelly from the US Centre for Military Readiness said it would not help women or men in the military.

She said many studies have shown that women in the infantry do not have an equal opportunity to survive or to help fellow soldiers to survive, partly because of the physical aspects of the job.

Women are allowed to take up combat roles in the militaries of a number of countries, including those of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Israel, Germany, Norway, Poland, Serbia and Sweden.

In the UK women are currently banned from infantry roles, but many serve on the front lines in support positions. A review in 2010 said they were capable of doing the job, but warned gender mixing could have ‘grave consequences’.


  • Why do you think that women have historically been banned from serving on the front lines?
  • Can you think of any other industries or sectors where men and women are separated?
  • Which characteristics or personality traits are typically considered to be 'feminine'? Which are considered 'masculine'?
  • The 2010 review warned that gender mixing could have ‘grave consequences’. What do you think was meant by this, and do you agree with the statement?

Related resources

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Further news resources

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Festivities, parades and fancy dress balls are marking the beginning of President Barack Obama’s second four-year term as president of the United States of America today.

Five men are expected to appear in court in India on Monday, accused of committing a fatal rape that has outraged the world’s largest democracy, sparking a national debate about the treatment of women.

In the news archive index