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Gender-blind selection could open infantry to women


he British Army is the only major NATO power which continues to exclude women from the combat arms.

But successful integration of women into combat roles and specifically the infantry could be achieved if certain conditions were met, argues researcher Professor Anthony King. “Two reasonable concerns are generally voiced to justify excluding women from the infantry,” Professor King points out. “First, women are simply not strong enough and so the physical selection standards would have to be lowered. Second, that the physical attraction between heterosexual men and women would undermine the cohesion and special solidarity required of the infantry unit.” Based on a two-year study, including fieldwork and interviews with female combat veterans, Professor King suggests that the successful accession of women in, for example, the Canadian Infantry could be replicated in the British Army. “It’s a fact that most women are physically weaker than most men,” he explains. “A 2002 UK MOD Report based on extensive physiological testing concluded that only one per cent of

trained female soldiers could pass the same courses to the same standards as infantry men. Just because only a small group of women can perform to the higher levels required of the infantry

and Afghanistan suggests this is what happened in terms of women on the frontline in specialist roles.” Dangers of fraternisation, bullying and harassment clearly exist. The

Physically capable women might be

integrated into the infantry if they are judged on their performance and not gender

– standards which women combat soldiers themselves defend as essential for cohesion and combat performance – seems no reason to exclude those females who can do so.” In terms of the feared negative

effect of women on male cohesion, Professor King finds clear evidence that cohesion arises from training and professional competence, rather than any bond of male friendship. “It is precisely because cohesion is based on professional competence and not arbitrary personal or cultural judgements that ethnic minorities and homosexuals have been able to serve in the infantry without difficulty. Physically capable women might be integrated into the infantry if they are judged on their performance and not gender. Substantial evidence from Iraq

persistence of a masculine culture which stereotypes women, however competent, has to be recognised. Finally, in reality only a tiny proportion of women (three to six in each battalion) could pass the infantry tests. To minimise their isolation and dangers of fraternisation while opening the infantry to women, the optimal solution may be to assign this very small minority to more senior, specialist roles such as medics, intelligence officers or indeed commanders rather than expect them to serve as standard riflemen. n

” i Contact Professor Anthony King,

University of Exeter Email Telephone 01392 263259 ESRC Grant Number ES/J006645/1


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