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Last Updated: Monday, 22 August 2005, 08:35 GMT 09:35 UK
Women join Australia combat units
Australian Army Task Force soldiers disembark from a C17 Australian Air Force plane at Ali Al Salem Air Base, 70 Km North West of Kuwait City on Sunday, April 17, 2005.
Australia's opposition says troops are suffering a skills shortage
The Australian government has authorised the deployment of women in frontline units for the first time.

But Assistant Defence Minister De-Anne Kelly said women would still remain barred from direct combat, serving instead in various support roles.

Women make up about 13% of the 52,000-strong Australian armed forces.

The announcement - which Ms Kelly said would give women "a better career path" in the military - follows a review of the nation's armed forces.

Ms Kelly said that up to 50 women were expected to take up the new posts by December - 15 of them serving in combat units in Iraq.

Australia currently has 700 troops in Iraq, and hundreds more stationed in the region.

Another 190 troops are also being sent to Afghanistan before elections there next month.

"Suitably-qualified women can apply to be posted to armoured and artillery units, as well as infantry battalions, in support roles in headquarters and administrative units," Ms Kelly said in a statement on Monday.

Support roles

This means that, for the first time, they can work on the front line, albeit in support roles such as clerical, medical, transport and logistics posts.

Ms Kelly said the opening up of these new roles would "make defence and army a much more attractive career option" for women.

But a defence spokesman for the opposition Labor Party, Robert McClelland, said the decision had been made out of necessity rather than principle as there was "clearly a skills shortage in the defence forces".

"This will go some way to alleviating it, and we recognise that it will also give women more improved career prospects in the military," Mr McClelland said.

"But nonetheless it won't obviate the need for the government to address the chronic skills crisis that's facing our military," he told ABC News.


What do you think about the decision to deploy women in frontline units? Do you think women should be allowed to fight alongside men? Are you a woman in the armed forces? Send us your comments and experiences using the form at the bottom of the page.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

I don't think those 50 women should be deployed at the front-line. Its just a delusion that this would help to advance their 'careers' in their military - without direct combat experience you can't make a real General. Women don't belong in combat - it also demoralises the men.
Eric, Canada

It is a welcome development as long as they maintain a support role. Women on no account should be allowed to fight alongside men. While this is not an attempt to discriminate against women, supporting the frontline will be the best thing for women to do. As a member of the Army, I know how stressful and dangerous the frontline is. There should be limitation to what women can do in the Army.
Omorodion Osula, Boston, USA

Women should be allowed to fight alongside men. I don't even see a reason to argue about this anymore. If we're really human, treat us like it. The bad comes with the good when you want equality.
Charysse, Denver USA

I don't think it is a good idea at all. We let women into our frontline units at the cost of morale to the men. As a serving soldier, and, having women working under me, the thought is always there of safety for them, it is in-built and automatic, thus taking your mind off the job in hand.
Brian, Wirral

It's a shame that men and women are still not treated equally in the armed forces, despite the fact that both require equal qualifications in order to enter the army.
Benjamin, England

I agree that women should be allowed in support roles even on the front line. However, being in the military i strongly disagree with letting women participate in direct combat jobs. Physiological differences between men and women cannot be overlooked when lives are at stake.
Matthew, New Orleans, USA

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SEE ALSO:
Australian PM on visit to Baghdad
25 Jul 05 |  Middle East
Australian forces leaving E Timor
13 Jun 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia boosts Solomons troops
23 Dec 04 |  Asia-Pacific


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