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Australia military to allow women in combat roles

The Australian Minister for Defence announced Tuesday that women may now work in any position [press release] within the Australian Defence Force (ADF), including combat roles. Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith [official website] cited the "long and proud history" of women serving in the ADF as one of the reasons underlying the removal of the gender restrictions, which had prevented women from working in positions as Mine Clearance Divers and Ground Defence Officers, among others. A woman's suitability for a role will now be determined based on her ability to perform the duties required by the position rather than her gender. The policy should be completely implemented within five years. The Australian Defence Association [official website], a security think-tank, has voiced concerns [Guardian report] regarding the involvement of women in combat roles, fearing that due to the bio-mechanical differences between men and women, the latter would experience a disproportionately higher rate of causalities.

While a high number of women serve in the armed forces around the world, Australia is only the fourth country to allow them to serve on the front-lines without restrictions. Last January, a US Military panel recommended in its latest report that women should be allowed to serve on the front lines of combat [JURIST report]. The Military Leadership Diversity Commission (MLDC) [official website], composed of retired and current military leaders, said that women, who under current defense policy are prohibited from serving in direct line-of-fire combat, should be permitted to serve in combat and that integration of women into combat forces would have no ill effects. The commission recommended a "time-phased" approach to the implementation of new combat policies that would create additional career options for women that include "direct ground combat." The report addressed common concerns among military officials that inclusion of women in combat forces would present problems with unit cohesion and that the current policy is effective due to current warfare techniques. The commission's conclusion is that in Iraq and Afghanistan women have already been exposed to combat-related activities, with no negative effects, and that the current policy is discriminatory to women.

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