Should women have combat roles in the armed forces? This has been a longstanding debate and it has never reached a consensus, not among the politicians or bureaucrats, not among the armed forces and not among the general public either. There are many critics of the idea of having women in combat roles. There are some proponents but their number is not too high. We still have a notion that women are not physically and emotionally suitable for combat roles. There are many other arguments posed by armed forces veterans and even some women who have held important military portfolios.
While time will tell if women are allowed to have combat roles, here are some women in combat pros and cons.
1. The same perspective on physical ability gets debunked when one considers the counterargument. A soldier has to be physical fit, emotionally strong and should have the mental strength to be in combat. If a soldier has these attributes, then the gender doesn’t matter. There are numerous instances where physically weak soldiers have been sent out to fight. Not all men in combat roles are physically tough enough and mentally strong enough. Besides, as far as physical strength or mental toughness is concerned, women can always be trained. Muscle building training and pre-training can always prepare women for combat roles. Another reality that is often missed out on is that battles of the 21st century aren’t fought with swords and fists. They are mostly powered by technology. Brute strength is seldom used in combat roles. Even the operation that took out Osama Bin Laden was highly technical and did not require much hand to hand combat or physical force. It was all tactical. Such combat positions can always use women as women are just as savvy with technicalities as men.
2. To the flipside, a blanket ban on women from aspiring for combat positions will reduce the talent pool. Military commanders and even armed forces in general are supposed to get the best recruits. By disallowing half of a country’s population for a particular job, the pool for recruitment is adversely affected. The attrition problems in armed forces, shortfall of recruits and dearth of ready replenishments of units can be attended to if women are allowed to opt for combat roles.
3. Almost all of these, otherwise valid, reasons can be addressed. First, women who would sign up for combat roles are conscious enough to avoid pregnancy when they are out on the battlefront. There are millions of women in the general workforce across industries who postpone or plan pregnancy as to not affect their work. There is no reason to think that women will not have the same professional approach to their job when in combat roles. Women are likely to get more abused as prisoners or when captured by the enemy but men are also subjected to brutal torture. Men get raped too.
4. The same argument can be flipped with the example of numerous industries that were earlier considered to be male bastions. In a hundred years, women have progressed from being homemakers to running billion dollar enterprises and even being at physically risky jobs. Unless women are allowed an entry and the masculine military subculture is allowed to evolve and change, the tradition would continue to exist.
1. Women are physically incapable of combat. That is what most people put forth as a reason for women being denied combat roles. In the armed forces, men and women can apply for almost all jobs barring combat positions. The physical strength and fitness required for combat roles is not something women can develop. Trainings and combats are designed to suit men and their capabilities. Hence, women would not fit combat roles or combat units. Having women in combat units may weaken the unit or may result in more injuries to the women soldiers.
2. Efficiency of women soldiers in combat roles is also often put forth as a major disadvantage. It is considered that while some women would be suitable for combat roles, there wouldn’t be many women signing up for such positions and thus that would make integration quite difficult. The logistical and regulatory costs would increase without much spike in recruitment.
3. There are many women centric issues that come to light while talking about combat roles for women. Having women in a unit may increase the risks of harassment and trouble in many forms. Women when captured by the enemy can be brutally tortured and almost always raped. Pregnancy and other health conditions of women may prevent them from being deployed in combat zones and that would hurt the resources of a unit.
4. The tradition of combat roles being a male bastion is another hindrance. Not only do some men resent the idea of women in combat roles but there can be some issues in units or combat theaters where there is a subculture of masculinity or chauvinism.