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Girls & Women

Women Can Now Enter All Frontline Roles in British Military

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The first women in the UK were granted the right to vote 100 years ago. But while ongoing discrimination in the workplace and the gender pay gap show there is still much work to be done, progress is happening — we just have to keep fighting for more. You can take action here to demand a world where #SheIsEqual. 

All roles in the British armed forces are now open to women, the government announced on Thursday.

Though women have long served in the military, a ban prevented them from ground close contact roles until 2016, and the Special Air Service (SAS), Special Boat Service (SBS), frontline infantry units, and Royal Marines were off-limits — until now.

Take Action: Tell the UK Government to Help Create a World Where #SheIsEqual

The defence secretary Gavin Williamson made the announcement at a land power demonstration on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, which involved some of the first women to join the Royal Armoured Corps after the ban was lifted in 2016.

“I am delighted that from today, for the first time in its history, our armed forces will be determined by ability alone and not gender," Williamson said. “Opening all combat roles to women will not only make the armed forces a more modern employer, but will ensure we recruit the right person for the right role.”

Williamson said that women already serving in the army will now be able to transfer to infantry roles, and that those not yet serving will be able to apply for those roles in December this year.

Women will also be able to apply for selection into the Royal Marines by the end of the year, with courses beginning at the Royal Marines Commando training centre in Lympstone, in Devon, in early 2019.

There were some critics raising concerns about women joining the frontlines, however. Colonel Richard Kemp, who commanded British forces in Afghanistan in 2003, said that even a single woman on the frontline would undermine teamwork and potentially cost lives, according to the Times

But Lance Corporal Kat Dixon, attending the demonstration as one of 35 women either serving or training to join the Royal Armoured Corps, responded to critics such as Kemp by saying that she would “just prove them wrong.”

She added that, in her experience of speaking to others who are opposed to women on the front lines, “by the end of the conversation they’re usually on board.”

Neil Stephenson, a British warrant officer, backed the move on Twitter — and was followed by soldiers both past and present.

Currently just 10% of Britain’s regular personnel and 14% of reservists are female, and the British Army employs 13,000 women.

And while not previoulsy allowed to enter frontline infantry, special forces, or Royal Marines, women have still served as attack helicopter pilots, medics, and engineers.

Other doubters claimed that women would not be able to keep up with the rigorous physical and psychological training that applicants must pass to join the special forces and the Royal Marines.

One tweeted: “The job doesn't get easier in war just because you're a female and the tests should reflect this. Equal rights, not special rights.”

“There’s no getting around physiology," added Dixon, speaking to the Guardian about her training. "Women have a different muscle make-up to men.”

“It is challenging but you can do it if you put your mind to it," she said.

Dixon was the first female tank gunner in the Royal Armoured Corps, and currently serves in the Royal Wessex Yeomanry.

Second lieutenant Maddie Hudson, of the Royal Engineers, said: “If you can still complete the same amount of exercises, the same weight, the same tabbing distance, why base it on gender when you could base it on quality?”

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Williamson told the Guardian that women could also play an important role in combat units — for example when conducting community engagement where local women would be unwilling to speak with a man.

Asked if she would one day consider becoming chief of the general staff, Hudson said: “I wouldn’t want to do something just to be the first female, I’d want to do something because I’m good at it.”