Throughout the world, the issue of women in the military has created a relatively constant dilemma throughout the past century or so. This has been particularly the case in Australia, where women are barred from entering the military in the infantry or special forces. It has been against the policy of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to allow women to participate in the military in this way for several reasons. There have, however, been increasing calls for the admittance of women in these capacities, as it is increasingly evident that women and men have at least the same physical and psychological capabilities, whether in peacekeeping or combat situations. However, opponents note that there are several good reasons for not yet allowing this. One argument holds that the Australian public is not ready to see their daughters, wives, and mothers return injured, maimed, or dead from combat situations. It is also believed that there would be a disproportionate number of female deaths should they be allowed to do battle alongside men. Other reasons include the psychological impact on the general morale of the infantry and the practical way in which operations are conducted on the battlefield. Those who oppose the inclusion of women on the battlefield therefore assume that there will be several severe impacts, both on the battlefield and on the general public; until these issues are addressed and mitigated, it appears unlikely that many women will join their male counterparts in war situations.
Women have been part of the Australian military since the turn of the 20th century, where 60 women accompanied male Australian troops to South Africa as nurses. While they expected to nurse the wounded, most of their duties were taken up by nursing the ill as a result of poor sanitary conditions in the battlefield. This experience created a platform for many nurses to join the new reserve nursing force (Ryebuck Media and Australian Defence Force, 2002, p. 2). During the two World Wars, many of these women continued serving their country as nurses, often having to handle the worst that the war could give in the form of conditions like gangrene, terrible wounds, and rampant death and disease.
During World War 2, the range of service in which Australian women could engage increased greatly. Some of these include the Australian Army Nursing Service, which could also serve with the Navy or Air Force. Women were subjected to experiences such as combat conditions, evacuation under fire, competitive, attacks on ships, sinking, and massacres. The result of these conditions was often fatal for the nurses in question. They were also the only female service personnel outside Australian territory (Ryebuck Media and Australian Defence Force, 2002, p. 3). In 1940, the voluntary system was ended, and military nurses became paid professionals.
In 1941, the Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) was formed and women joined the army as mechanics, drivers, cooks, telecommunications officers, typists, and in other occupations to relieve men of these duties so that they could serve in the battlefield. In this way, women provided essential administrative and support services to provide a basis from which more men could enter the battle situation.
Australian women also served in the Korean and Vietnam wars (Ryebuck Media and Australian Defence Force, 2002, p. 5) as part of the regular rather than auxiliary units. At this time, the policy included that women were not allowed to serve in combat areas, were obliged to be single, and were appointed for short terms only, which limited their promotion prospects. In Vietnam, women serve as nurses, doctors, entertainers, and journalists.
The current controversy involves a disagreement, not so much regarding the ability of women to hold their own in a combat situation -- this seems to have been proven by the illustrious history of female military personnel in the country. Instead, the conflict seems to center around the effects of such inclusion on the psychology of their fellow combatants and on those who remain at home in Australia. According to Dodd (2011), a recent mandate has created a platform for female combatants to serve in frontline roles. The Gillard government ordered the bringing forward of the removal of bans on women applying for dangers and demanding military jobs.
This does not, however, mean that everybody hailed the announcement as another victory in the battle against sexism. Instead, there are many with misgivings about the inclusion of women in combat. One such entity is the Australian Defence Association lobby group. Their opinion is also supported by Keith Payne, the oldest Australian who currently holds the Victoria Cross for gallantry.
One argument against the inclusion of women, according to these opponents, is not only the physical conditions of combat infantry, but also the response to women who are wounded or captured. While general army protocol is to fight to the objective first and then care for the wounded, many men would have a sense of chivalry that would not allow them to leave fallen female comrades behind. This could endanger the mission and those fighting alongside the soldiers. It would therefore be the "wrong thing to do," as stated by Payne.
Others simply base their opinion on the general belief that battle is "no place for women." Still, the announcement was an attempt to combat these opinions, and not least the opinion that the Australian military is basically sexist. The issue is, however, somewhat more complicated that simply one of sexism. The practical implementation of the new mandate, for example, will be challenging for a number of reasons.
The main concern is that opening all military jobs to women would have the grim result of a disproportionately high count of female casualties. This, according to Dodd (2011), is not something that the Australian government will likely face willingly. Opponents warn that concepts such as academic equity will not apply on the battlefield. Women are daughters, sisters, wives, or female friends, which will make their loss poignant in the light of the fact that their male counterparts die in smaller numbers.
At the same time, both opponents and advocates claim their willingness to be open-minded about the issue. Some have said at the same time that women should be able to serve in self-propelled artillery and combated engineering units. Others hold that there should be no bars to women who wish to enter any military unit, as long as the rigorous physical selection standards are upheld.
Thompson (2011) cites Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick in her statement that the perception of women and their right to play certain combat roles will change over time. This perhaps lies at the heart of the issue. Not many Australians are ready to face the consequences of entering women into battle situations. Some of these opinions are based upon the sexist notion that women cannot handle themselves in combat or that they will die in greater numbers then men. Others base this upon cultural and personal considerations. Women who are away from their homes and loved ones for a prolonged period of time to do battle have a great impact upon their family life. Furthermore, losing fathers, husbands and sons to battle is a dire enough agony without adding mothers, sisters, and daughters. The emotional impact would in effect be double upon the Australian public.
To therefore rush the process of including women now, before the public has had an opportunity to find it remotely acceptable, could be a mistake. Adams (2011) confirms this view. The author cites the collective view of the Australian public as the primary reason for not allowing women into battle. The author points out that, while women have always served valiantly close to the frontlines of battle, they are somehow less acceptable as casualties of war than men. Furthermore, the image of the male soldier and the female nurse and support staff assistant in the public consciousness is sufficiently embedded to make it highly controversial to push them into battle for the sake of a feminist ideal. Adamis further points out that women's accepted roles in combat have been excellently served, and in some cases even better than those of their male counterparts. Roles such as intelligence gathering, driving, information technology, management, and other administrative roles, have, for example, been carried out excellently by female soldiers for at least the last century. Those who oppose female inclusion in battle believe that these roles should be sufficient for women who want to serve their country.
On the other hand, men have the physical prowess and emotional fortitude to function in battle in terms of capturing and killing. Women, on the other hand, may be captured themselves and made to suffer by the men who capture them in the form of rape or torture. According to the critics, men are simply naturally better equipped to handle capture and kill situations than women. Another related concern is that men may behave in a way that is not fitting to their roles as combat soldiers when…