The UK made a landmark announcement on Thursday as it was confirmed that all combat roles within the military will now be open to women, overturning decades of policy that barred women from joining the likes of the Royal Marines and the Special Air Service (SAS).
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson revealed the news and said that, for the first time in history, the British armed forces would now be “determined by ability alone”, without any consideration of gender.
“Women have led the way with exemplary service in the armed forces for over 100 years, working in a variety of specialist and vital roles,” Williamson said. “So 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.
“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.”
Women were previously restricted from serving in ground close combat roles until the ban was lifted by then-Prime Minister David Cameron in 2016. However, only the Royal Armoured Corps, followed by the RAF Regiment, had since opened their doors to female recruits.
The decision has divided opinion amongst serving soldiers in the UK, with many supporting the changes as long as the “high standards” of the British Army are maintained, however former Commander of the British Army Colonel Richard Kemp said that allowing women into the SAS was a “mistake”.
Speaking to LBC Radio in the UK, Kemp said: “I think this decision is a mistake. I don’t believe it is the right move to make.”
One former soldier, who spent 12 years in the British Infantry and deployed on two operational tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, told Starts at 60: “I have no problem with the decision to allow women to apply for any role, and I don’t think the majority of men in the armed forces would either.
“As long as the high standards that soldiers are held to do not begin to slip, purely because the government and those high up in the army want to look good in the public eye. The most important thing is that soldiers – men or women – are capable of fulfilling the mission statement of the branch or regiment they join.”
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson added: “While the military does not necessarily expect large numbers of women to apply for ground close combat roles, the changes are aimed at creating opportunities for individuals from all backgrounds and making the most of their talents.
“By making all branches and trades of the military open to everyone, regardless of their gender, the armed forces are building on their reputation of being a leading equal opportunities employer.”
The UK is far from the first country to allow women to apply for combat roles. Canada has allowed women to serve in ground and sea combat roles since 1987, while 88 per cent of roles in the Israel Defense Forces are open to female applicants.
New Zealand also does not restrict the service of women as, from 2000, they have been able to serve in the SAS, infantry, armour and artillery, if they are able to pass the same training.
However, the Australian Defence Force currently has no combat roles open to women. Female recruits in Australia are still excluded from joining the likes of the infantry, Navy diving teams, armour, artillery and combat engineers, as well as airfield defence guard roles and ground defence officers in the Royal Australian Air Force.