A woman’s place . . . The words that traditionally followed that statement (“is in the home”) are hardly uttered these days, thankfully. Women have come a long way, and now they may go forward yet again.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has rescinded a 1994 policy to now officially allow women to serve in combat. The move also allows for the integration of women into newly opened positions that were once forbidden for members of their gender in uniform.
Critics argue that women do not have the same qualifications as their male counterparts, including physical strength, which requires lowering the bar to achieve equality. And women can be targets of sexual intimidation or assault, which the military has yet to control within the ranks.
But the decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have helped to vanquish the doubts in wars no longer fought in the trenches. In many instances, women have met the same challenges and been tested under fire because they were serving in a theater of war.
David DiRamio, an associate professor at Auburn University who has published several reports on female veterans in Alabama, has found that one of every six female veterans who have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan have experienced sexual trauma, but says he welcomes the change as a necessary step forward for women and for the military.
“This announcement by Secretary Panetta is an important first step in a healing process that my colleagues and I characterize as ‘stepping out of the shadows’ for women who have served in this decade-long conflict,” he said.
Women made up 15 percent of the armed forces in the Iraq war. This level of participation and shared sacrifice has allowed them to win the respect of their fellow soldiers, along with recognition that comes with medals like the Purple Heart. According to data compiled by the Women’s Memorial Foundation, 106 received the award in the war.
If they can meet conventional military requirements, they should not be prevented from going forward.
That is the argument of Steven Kass, who teaches military psychology at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. “If one empirically determines that the job requires the ability to carry a certain amount of weight or run a particular distance in a given time, then the ability to do those things should be the determining factor, not sex, age, race, or any other group membership,” he said.
In Iraq alone, 152 U.S. servicewomen have died and more than 800 have been wounded in fighting — and they should have the same equal rights as servicemen. Period.