By Tiseme Zegeye, ACLU Women’s Rights Project & Elayne Weiss, ACLU Washington Legislative Office
Earlier this week Huffington Post reported, "American women have served in the military since there has been an America to serve." And while it is widely acknowledged that women are already engaging in combat, American servicewomen continue to be officially excluded from being "assigned" to direct ground combat positions by the so-called combat exclusion rule. This rule prevents women’s service from being fully recognized and stifles their career advancement.
Slow progress has been made towards ending sex discrimination in the armed forces. In February of this year, the Department of Defense announced that it would modify the combat exclusion rule to open up certain previously restricted jobs at the battalion level — though not in the infantry, armor, or special operations forces — and to remove a rule that prevented women from serving in positions that were required to "co-locate" with combat units. This past Monday, the Army announced that it will begin to implement DOD’s new policy. And just last month, the Marine Corps announced that it plans to allow enlisted Marine women access to infantry training, and attend the previously male-only Infantry Officers Course in Quantico, Va. (women will still not be permitted to serve in the infantry once they complete training).
Yet, while the new policy’s implementation will mean that women are now eligible for 14,000 jobs that were once exclusively male, women are still barred from more than 250,000 positions on account of their sex.
The steps DOD has taken are necessary, but far from sufficient. Since the 1970s, the ACLU has been fighting to end discrimination against women in the military. Excluding women from combat based solely on their sex is grounded in part on broad and outdated stereotypes, including the notion that women’s role is not to kill or put in harm’s way and the belief that women are not physically able to engage in combat.
The combat exclusion rule also ignores the reality of modern warfare — there are no frontlines in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In fact, women are already serving in combat, and at present, 139 women have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
While we recognize the progress DOD has made in the last couple of months, we urge the department to do away with this discriminatory policy that presupposes women to be unqualified to serve in combat roles and harms their military careers in the process. It’s time for our government to start properly recognizing the service and sacrifice of our brave women in uniform. Let’s hope they don’t have to wait too much longer to get the credit they deserve.
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