Thursday, June 13, 2024

This is an ARCHIVED article at Information and links may well be out of date.

The Ministry of Defence is thought likely to relax the long-standing rule preventing women serving in the infantry.

A report by Deborah Haynes, Defence Editor of The Times (£ link) suggests that the review into female combat soldiers, which was brought forward by the previous Defence Secretary last April, is likely to be signed off by Michael Fallon as early as next week.

As has been the case since the start of the review, it is widely expected that the MoD will give women the chance to serve in ground combat roles.

If the decision proves controversial, some may try to blame the decision on a EU Directive.

The EU's Employment Equality Directive establishes a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, but says that Member States are not required to employ people who do not have the capacity to carry out their operational duties. But the Directive now requires Member States to review from time to time whether such exemptions are actually necessary.

As a review was carried out in 2010 and the government is expected to review the position every eight years, the government was not required to carry out a review this year, and the review could conclude if it wished that female roles in the forces should not be further extended at this point. Any changes will be down to the MoD and Army, not the EU.

With the first women having as recently as May 2014 begun serving aboard Royal Navy submarines, all armed forces jobs outside the infantry and armoured corps are now gender-free, although in numbers and seniority profile the armed forces are still a long way from equality.

BAFF supports fairness and equality but recognises that views on extending female employment to ground combat roles vary amongst our membership, as well as in the wider armed forces community. If the MoD does decide to open the infantry and armoured corps to women as widely expected, no-one should expect that to result in equal representation of the genders amongst those capbadges.

Whatever their views on this debate, everyone we have spoken to so far (male or female) agreed that whatever happens, physical recruitment and training requirements must at all costs not be lowered in order to increase the representation of women.

That is not as simple as it sounds, however. Physical requirements which favoured men more than women would not be justified unless genuinely required by the nature of the job.

Other questions include, for example, whether units should be encouraged to keep small teams (such as vehicle crews and infantry "bricks") single-sex as far as possible.

We believe that BAFF, with its members and supporters from across the rank range and across the three services, should take an active constructive part in any such debate.

BAFF is aware of concurrent developments in allied countries, such as the United States (USMC), and Norway.

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