militaryI am not sure this post qualifies as a “family” topic, but perhaps it squeezes in as sign of the changing roles and image of women in society that may affect the family (institution) in some way.

A year ago Australia’s armed forces opened up full combat roles to women, but, despite intensive publicity, only three have so far expressed interest — all of them as naval mine clearance diver officers, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

No army women have sought combat positions and the air force has not had any responses to its call for applicants. The navy is about to issue a call for formal applications from women, who can start from January.

Hmmm. Here we were, thinking that women were clamouring to man the artillery. What’s holding them back? Whatever it is, it will not be allowed to stop the implementation of a “five-year plan” to get women into full combat. One method will be to offer them a “try before you buy” stint of a few months, with no obligation.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Liz Broderick handed down a report last week that urges the forces to set targets for women’s recruitment because “critical mass” is crucial to their acceptance (by male officers, presumably). But the navy’s women’s strategic adviser says critical mass is “unachievable in the short term” so the navy is looking at ways to support lone female trailblazers.

Ensuring lone female pioneers were supported – and had a chance to themselves be role models for other women – would require mentoring, networking and strong encouragement from commanding officers, Commander Wittwer said.

In addition, physical tests for military jobs are being rewritten — not necessarily making them easier, reports the Herald.

It seems a lot of trouble to go to when men seem to do these tough jobs well enough and women are not queuing up to take them on. So what’s it all about — pay and career structure? An ideological victory for the gender equality brigade?

Last week New Zealand lost its first female soldier in Afghanistan. Lance-Corporal Jacinda Baker, 26, a medic with the New Zealand army, was killed when her Humvee vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb.

Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said there were 10 women serving in Bamiyan and another two at the United States air base at Bagram near the capital Kabul. Women made up 16 per cent of the wider Defence Force. He offered this justification for having women in the front lines:

New Zealand wasn’t unique having women on the front line, Jones said. “A lot of European countries are putting women on the front line because of the roles we do with community engagement. Having women there to interact with children and other women in Islamic society becomes quite important.”

Well, that’s one plausible reason.

Ten other countries allow women to serve in combat roles: Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Israel, Serbia, Sweden and Switzerland.

Image: Sydney Motning Herald

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet