Beginning in September of this year, the Royal Air Force (RAF) has decided to open up combat positions to women. This new policy will soon extend to all other branches of the military, reopening a conversation that has been ongoing in terms of women in traditionally masculine fields.
This landmark decision has happened ahead of schedule, proving this to be a historic moment in the RAF’s history. When announcing this change, Defense Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said, “A diverse force is a more operationally effective force. So I’m delighted that the RAF Regiment will be open to recruitment to women from September,” he continued, “Individuals who are capable of meeting the standards for the regiment will be given the opportunity to serve, regardless of their gender. This is a defining moment for the RAF, as it becomes the first service to have every trade and branch open to both genders.”
Currently, women make up about 10 percent of the RAF. They are a 2,000 person regiment whose main duties are to protect the UK generally in times of crisis and to patrol bases and airfields belonging to the RAF.
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier said of the news, “The RAF is committed to providing equal opportunity to all, so it’s fantastic to be able to open recruitment to the RAF Regiment to women ahead of schedule. We want the best and most talented individuals to join the Air Force, regardless of their gender, race, or background. A diverse force is a more effective force, and we need the best people to deliver the important work we do, be it defeating Daesh in Iraq and Syria, or protecting Britain’s skies.”
While those higher up in decision making ranks seem to be pleased with the inclusive decision, Colonel Richard Kemp, former British commander in Afghanistan, said to the BBC, “My concern is primarily in terms of physical capabilities and the effects that long-term stresses and strains of infantry training and operations will have on a woman’s body.” He claims that he has no prejudice against women in the military but is worried that they are more likely to be injured, therefore costing the RAF more money. He continued, “My other concern is that standards of training and selection will be dropped. The army deny they will do that, but I’m confident they will.”
The assertion that women will somehow be given the easy version of training is dangerous and insulting. Kemp then went on to comment on the lack of gender mixed sports teams, “The simple fact is we take sport more seriously today. We take the defence of our country and the lives of our servicemen and women less seriously.”
Major Judith Webb, the first woman to command an all-male British army, has a slightly different opinion on the matter. She says, “Being aware of our physical differences is an important aspect, but that is where I feel research has now been carried out. We want to promote diversity and get the best people, and if we have got women who want to do it and who are capable of doing it, then of course they should be able to do it.”
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