A piece by Lucy Fisher, Defence Correspondent, in yesterday’s Times. Of course the issue of vanishingly few women being able to pass the fitness standards for infantry roles isn’t raised. No, the story has to be about women declining opportunities.
It was heralded as a historic milestone for gender equality when the British Army’s infantry finally opened its doors to female transfers last autumn.
However, new data has shown that fewer than five female soldiers have switched across to take up the opportunity in the past ten months.
The infantry is the largest branch of the army, with about 20,000 personnel in 19 regiments across almost 50 regular and reserve battalions. Its core function is to defeat the enemy in close combat, making it the bedrock of the army. Exacting physical fitness and strength standards are required.
Service insiders claim that the low female transfer rate among women, [J4MB: Come on, Lucy, read your articles before you submit them to the paper] revealed in response to a freedom of information request this week, is neither a surprise nor a disappointment. [J4MB: And the low transfer rate among women is “neither a surprise nor a disappointment” because…?] They insist that the move was about offering female personnel choice rather than introducing gender quotas. [J4MB: Gender quotas for the roles most likely to result in injury and death? No chance. I’m still waiting for the first all-feminist bomb disposal squad, their training needn’t be too rigorous…].
As recently as three years ago, at least 30 per cent of army roles were closed to women. Now there are no roles in the British military from which women are barred, including the Special Air Service and Special Boat Service.
Gavin Williamson, who was the defence secretary at the time, announced the policy last autumn, saying: “For the first time in its history, our armed forces will be determined by ability alone and not gender.”
The move was not universally applauded, however. Colonel Richard Kemp, who commanded British forces in Afghanistan in 2003, claimed that it could “cost lives”. He argued that the presence of a woman in a male team could undermine cohesion and be divisive, increasing the risk of casualties. [J4MB emphasis]
Across the army, Royal Navy and RAF, a little more than 10 per cent of regular personnel are women but the military has a target of 15 per cent by next year. There is also a target to increase black, Asian and minority ethnic representation to at least 10 per cent, up from 7.5 per cent, at the same time.
Women have been allowed to join tank crews since 2016. So far 35 female soldiers have joined the Royal Armoured Corps.
The top echelons of the UK armed forces are less diverse than lower ranks. Only 3 per cent of senior officers are women. Last month Major General Sharon Nesmith became the first female soldier to be appointed a two-star general.
An MoD spokesman said: “We have always said that we do not expect large numbers of female personnel to join ground close combat roles. This is not about numbers, but about allowing all personnel, regardless of gender, to maximise their talent and pursue opportunities in all roles in the armed forces.”
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