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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 13:11 GMT
Are equal opportunity policies right for every profession?
Female recruits to the British Army are more likely to suffer health problems during training than their male counterparts.

A new study shows that the number of women being injured has more than doubled since the policy of making all recruits undergo the same physical training was introduced in 1998.

Lt Col Ian Gemmell, who carried out the study, is calling for a review of selection tests and training methods in the light of his findings.

"Males and females at the lower end of the physical capability spectrum should be trained more gradually and perhaps over a longer period of time."

Should the army change the way it trains female recruits? Do 'gender-free' work policies put people at risk? Should some jobs be free from equal opportunity legislation?

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.



In all brigades females play a valuable part in the firefighting team

Paul Amos, UK
As a serving fire officer with twenty three years service I have witnessed at close hand the unfolding of the equality debate. In all brigades females play a valuable part in the firefighting team. The reason is because of teamwork and because they all meet basic fitness standards. These standards, by and large are designed to meet the requirements of the job. There is no blanket answer to this question, there has to be a more sophisticated approach taken on a case by case, role by role basis. However, the basic starting point is always that of 'equality of opportunity'.
Paul Amos, UK

Equal opportunity does not exclude modifications within the system to cater for individual needs. For example, more gradual physical training might be required in some instances, with the same end result, albeit delayed. But to use this need as a spurious reason for omitting certain groups of people from occupations is flawed. And the question arises: who gets to decide on inclusion? Those with a vested interest, as was the case with men in the past? I think not. Opportunities are intrinsically equal, whether this equality is recognised is the question.
Virginia Sampey, Australia

I have yet to meet a single woman who can haul 120 pounds of gear and weapons as well as the average man can, let alone one who can do so in a combat zone. No sour grapes there ladies, there are some things you simply can't do, not because of social unfairness, but thanks to simple biology.
Stephen, USA

Men and women willing to sacrifice their lives for their country should be given every advantage possible to safely and successfully accomplish their mission. This includes training, weapons, and morale. Would it affect the morale and potential success of a mission if one male member of the team discovered that a female member of the team was pregnant with his child? It will happen if we follow the PC guidelines.
Chuck, USA


There are plenty of roles in the armed forces where physical strength is not as important

Rustam Roy, England
The army should apply the same standards to everyone-irrespective of gender, race or religion. That is the only way to build a unified fighting force, the members of which can confidently rely on each other's abilities. If these standards are too tough for anyone, or even for a group of people, that's too bad, but not as important as treating everyone equally. There are plenty of roles in the armed forces where physical strength is not as important as other aspects.

It's too bad, though, that some people (as the comments show) will inevitably treat this as some sort of defeat for equal rights campaigners. It is purely an issue of biological difference, nothing else. It doesn't mean that men are superior to women - just that they are, on average, stronger.
Rustam Roy, England

Everyone should be given equal opportunities, but that doesn't mean everyone really is equal. The last 5 or 6 years, and especially here in Britain, has seen a vast positive change in the confidence of women. But the whole 'girl power' thing has been completely misinterpreted. Sorry ladies. Yeah, you can and should be tough and assertive - in a feminine way. But instead you seem to want to emulate men. You think that to prove your toughness you have to behave like men and prove you can do everything that men can. You're deluding yourselves. A few years of believing you can be as physically strong as men does not undo millions of years of evolution in which nature endowed the male with far far greater physical strength. Accept your limitations.
B Roberts, UK

I feel the standards should be the same, regardless of gender. Maybe the overall standards, and the objectives they follow, should be re-assessed. In the end, this isn't an office job we're talking about, every member of the Army has to be able and prepared to fight. This is why physical attributes are so important.
Chris, UK

I think we're missing the point here in our sea of gender-charged ripostes. The bottom line is that lots of women are being /physically hurt/ by the current regime of "complete gender equality". If someone of either gender has enough gumption and patriotism to do the training, then I don't want to see them getting hurt unnecessarily. Something has to be done differently as blank faced equality just seems to result in injury.
Simon, UK


Sneakiness, determination, and pure luck have won just as many battles as guns and helicopters

Eden, New Mexico, USA
Women have been fighting in wars since combat was invented. That's a cold hard fact. To Perry and Terrence, USA: you seem to forget that the mighty US military was beaten by Viet Cong who were underfed, under trained, weighed in on the same scale as American teenagers (!) and had no problem employing women and children to throw grenades, fire guns, plant diversions, and all the other millions of tactics employed in REAL combat. It ain't arm-wrestling, boys. Sneakiness, determination, and pure luck have won just as many battles as guns and helicopters - in which women shoot and pilot just as well as men.
Eden, New Mexico, USA

Having recently left the Army I find it hard to accept the idea of equality of physical training between male and female soldiers because it simply does not exist. For example the basic test of fitness for trained soldiers, the APFT, has two sets of pass criteria. Press ups, 40 for men, 22 for women. Sit ups, 44 for men, 40 for women. Timed 1.5 mile run, 10.5 minutes for men, 13 minutes for women. This can result in the ridiculous spectacle of a male soldier completing his run in 10:31 and failing (with the prospect of disciplinary action) and then a women colleague crossing the line just under 90 seconds later and passing. In almost every physical test a woman soldier has a lower pass level than a man. It is this inequality which causes the greatest bad feeling towards woman in a unit. You can talk about gender-free policies all you want but what it comes down to in the end is that it simply is not fair.
Karl L, UK

I am an ex-British army infantryman; and a member of the Regular Army Reserves, I can advise all that the work is long and arduous, and you need to have the physical characteristics to be able to cope - and then at times you will be driven up to and beyond what you thought your limits were. To disregard physical standards will be placing serving men and women at more risk than they are now. And it doesn't only affect women. My training platoon started with 130 recruits, six months later at the end of our training, only 13 originals were left. There is a reason for having exacting standards, to ensure this country of ours fields the best when it's needed. Just look at Afghanistan. Can you climb those mountains in combat order?
Justin, UK

I thought the phrase was "to serve your country." Being in the military isn't about some kind of equality power trip. It's about doing what's best for your country, your unit. What you want or don't want is irrelevant. The WTC disaster and the war in Afghanistan has brought home just how important strength still is. Martina Navratilova, probably the best women's tennis player ever, could wipe the floor, physically, with 99.9% of the women in the world. Even she admits that she couldn't compete with even the 100th ranked male tennis player. It's not about egos. It's about being able to lug assault rifles, carry packs of ammo, carry innocent civilians out of harm's way as quickly as possible. Keep the requirements the same for both sexes and let the chips fall where they may.
Janet S., USA

I would like to comment to all of those that said women do not have the same strength or endurance as men. While on average, it is true that women are not as strong as men, women actually frequently have longer endurance. Muscle fatigue occurs at a slower weight in women. Ask a man an a woman to hold a weigh in their hand and keep it held up at shoulder level with their arm outstretched. A man will - on average - be able to hold the highest maximum weight. Women - on average - will be able to hold their maximum weight for longer. This points out the differences in men and women's strength. There are some roles that each gender is better suited for - both can play a part in the military. The military just needs to figure out which part is which.
Tiffany, USA

As far as I know women have greater pain thresholds and greater stamina than men (in general terms). Perhaps the problem is that the training programme is designed for men's strengths and not for women's. I would have thought it sensible to have training programmes that favour the strengths of each sex this would give the armed forces a greater range of capabilities to draw on.
Jerome, UK

I can't believe some of these comments, most of you don't realise what the army's job is - it's not all about gun-toting and running up mountains with a heavy rucksack. There are other jobs in the army. I served in the Royal Irish Rgt, yes a woman in the infantry - the only infantry regiment to admit women and the training is too tough for women full stop. Women are more suited to life in engineering or administration, they are just not fit enough for the infantry. Women play an essential part in the army but not in the front line.
Hayley, N.Ireland

If you lower the standards of training to allow weaker recruits (be they men or women) then you seriously risk reducing the operating standards of your army. If we want to maintain a highly effective military capability the we must maintain a high level of selection and training. If you can make the standard, then you're in: Man or woman, black, white, yellow, orange or blue - I don't care. But if you don't make the grade, then your inclusion in a unit is a betrayal of the other soldiers who have worked harder to get there and you risk letting people down or even getting people killed.

Wendy is proud of her 'rather slight' father who served in the SAS (as she should be). She's right that sheer physical strength is not the most important role in modern warfare, but ironically enough, her father probably would have had to carry 50-odd kilos for 40-odd miles as part of his selection. We need recruits with brains, leadership and diplomacy, but we need them to also pass a certain level of physical strength and endurance to be fit for the job. The requirements are not lowered in combat, therefore they should not be lowered in training.
Jon, England

Few things look more ridiculous than a woman in combat fatigues. Those who insist on pretending that women have the strength and stamina required for battle or special operations live in a dream world in which real war is simply an abstraction. As a US citizen, I want the biggest, baddest, meanest fighters in the field when my country goes to war. That means men, not females who are simply "playing army."
Perry Cunningham, USA


Anyone who can meet the highest standards should be allowed to fight for their country

Matt, England
The Armed forces job is to protect its countries citizens. It should not bow to PC pressure to include a set number of women, or ethnic minorities at the expense of its fighting effectiveness. Anyone who can meet the highest standards should be allowed to fight for their country regardless of sex, race, religion etc. They need to be the best, nothing less will do.
Matt, England

To Sunjay Bhogal, do you really think it would help your cause if things were made easier for ethnic minorities? I am a woman and I don't think that giving women special treatment is the way to go to achieve equality. If a woman or a member of an ethnic minority are given special treatment their success will be tainted. It won't matter whether the person in question was a million times more talented than everybody else. All people will see is that this person was part of a group that received special treatment.
Christine, UK

Sunjay it's the same thing equality is about being equal, no special benefits or excuses. If ethnic minorities don't join then that is their choice. If they are prevented from joining that is different and should be addressed.
Rab Small, Scotland

With reference to Matt, England: The ethnic minority issue is different. I was much better and tougher than most of my white colleagues in the British forces. Remember there are only about one percent of ethnic minorities serving in the British forces, so something should be done about this, and your comments are an insult to all ethnic minorities.
Sunjay Bhogal, London, UK

I think that anybody who can do the job and meets the requirements should be taken on regardless of race, gender or sexuality. But imagine how you would feel if you were placing your life in the hands of someone who got their job simply to fill a quota and not because of their abilities. Rest assured that the enemy is not handicapped by such absurd pc policies.
Michael, Dublin, Ireland

Speaking as a veteran of the US armed forces, I went into the military for the love of my country, meaning a love for the people of this country. I can appreciate that women would want to do the same. However, I must ask them a few hard questions. Do you love your country enough to do what is right for your country? If your comrades in arms are so busy protecting you personally that they lose battles, who actually benefits? If the armed forces have to soften the training regiment so that you can pass, how will the armed forces be able to do the job they have been tasked? Think clearly about how your mere presence may create operational roadblocks in any ensuing conflicts, and then ask yourself if you are truly doing an honourable thing for your country.
Terrence, USA


Until the army finds a way of modifying gender specific evolutionary physical qualities, it should modify its training programme.

Chris B, England
Until the army finds a way of instantly modifying gender specific evolutionary physical qualities, it should modify its training programme. Expecting a female to cope with a physical training programme specifically designed to push a male to his limits is as ludicrous as expecting male squaddies to conceive and give birth. The British armed forces, and in particular the army, are masters of this type of blinkered stupidity. As are the supporters of a blanket ruling for sexual equality in all walks of life. Such people have failed to recognise a fundamental and inescapable truth: if the sexes were indeed equal, there would be only one sex.
Chris B, England

A good case could be made for all-female air crews, because women are lighter than men. And there is a good case for all-male infantry or armour battalions, because men are stronger than women. Difference doesn't have to mean inequality, if both genders accept that.
Guy Hammond, England

In the late 80s early 90s, when I was going through my trade training for the RAF Regiment we had a 75 per cent-ish drop out rate at least (I don't know what the drop out rate is now). That was a point of pride for those of us that made it, I know I would not have had the same trust in squadmates if there had been a different level of training due to political pressure for anyone or any group. It would only lower morale. Personally I would not care who you were as long has you had done the same training I had in the same time.
Rab Small, Scotland


Much more to the point would be to investigate why this report was commissioned

Susan, USA
What a load of codswallop. As a former marketing person, I know that you can make figures say anything you want. Much more to the point would be to investigate why this report was commissioned and what it's intended purpose was. Although given that the spokesperson is a male Lt. Colonel, it rather speaks for itself. Men just can't stand competition from women!
Susan, USA

Time for the feminists to admit defeat. The combat arms are no place for intrinsically weaker women. Fortunately, this was not a big issue when I was serving in the Army.
Major (Retired) Chris Klein, UK

The only reason for the Forces is to win wars. Period. The only reason for firemen is to save lives. These male dominated professions are that way for a simple fact of life: men are stronger and have more stamina than women. End of story. If you are trapped in a burning house or pinned down in a battlefield trench, see if you're "gender neutral". If women can meet the same standards, great. If not, find another job.
Peter C. Kohler, USA

Anyone who thinks that the inability to carry 50 kilos over 20-miles makes a bad soldier is very ignorant of both the armed forces and of modern warfare. Having had a rather slight father in the SAS, I know that 'beefcake' does and should come second to having guts, endurance, diplomacy, intelligence, strategic thinking, leadership and teamwork skills.
Wendy, UK


The enemy tends not to care what race and gender you are when shooting at you.

Ali Bushell, UK
Equal opportunities is a great thing and something to be strived for in any profession; but taking on people for a position they can't do to make up quotas of women, different colours and religions isn't equal opportunities. Yes the army should be open to anyone who wants to apply but if you can't do the job you can't do the job. Changing the fitness requirements of recruits to get more people into the job isn't in the best interests of the army, and in the face of the enemy they tend not to care what race and gender you are when shooting at you.
Ali Bushell, UK

I think the point is that army training is too strenuous for some women, but that is no reason to remove the equal opportunities for those who are strong enough. You do not say if the injury rate has risen from 1% to 2% or from 20% to 40% but it probably reflects a lower starting point in terms of fitness. One answer could be to screen recruits and add a period of fitness work before basic training begins, available to men & women.
K Sadler, UK

Yes, I think the army should change the way it trains female recruits. Men and women are basically different physically, but it doesnt mean 'different ability'. Under a suitable system, women can reach their goal equally. We treat them appropriate way - I think that is the meaning of 'gender-free'.
Ti Chin Wu, Taiwan, Taipei

If world class women athletes can't compete with men, how could anyone expect a woman to compete on an equal basis with men in the army. The whole thing is ludicrous. Why can't the feminists admit their limitations for once?
Edwin, Britain


There has been for a long time a misconception that equal opportunity equates to equal ability.

Brian, England
There has been for a long time a misconception that equal opportunity equates to equal ability. Thee is nothing wrong in giving both sexes an equal opportunity but if you can't hack it, get out. It's a simple as that. I wouldn't have dreamed of becoming a soldier when I was younger as I just didn't, and still don't, have the physique necessary for such a rigorous life. Why should we expect that every woman or man who joins up should be capable of achieving the same level of physical ability? Sure, you can have the opportunity to go for it, but don't be such a cry-baby if it doesn't work out - accept only that the opportunity was there for you but that you just weren't up to it. Then go and do something you CAN do.
Brian, England

Every armed force in the world has had this problem, even before the introduction of female recruits. When a training officer is faced with fresh recruits, some are stronger then others, some have more determination, more will etc. The policy has always been to train everyone the same so that they flush out these weak links and the end result is a strong squad of troops, regardless of gender, skin colour etc. Is that policy flawed? Should it be changed so that we have more balanced squads? I suppose the only answer to that would be to test them in war and see how an army of potentially weaker squads fairs against a foe who is, let's say, less politically correct?
Mark R, UK

Certainly fitness requirements shouldn't be different for men and women, but if women require more time to reach the same fitness level maybe they should be offered that time. On the other hand, there are probably men who need the extra time too.
Malcolm McMahon, York, UK

My brief spell in the Army brought home the fact that when you're out in the field your fitness is not only essential to your survival, but also (and more importantly) to the survival of your unit. If you're not fit enough your colleagues may die. Troops' lives should not be endangered through inadequate training. Perhaps a two-tier system could be implemented, where front-line and other physically demanding positions require a gender-free approach (injuries be damned) whilst other positions allow for a gender-fair approach (less arduous training for women).
Richard N, UK

This has shown, much to the dismay of the Feminists and Equality nutters, what anyone with an ounce of common sense already knew - men and women are better at different roles. Try as they undoubtedly do, women can never match men physically, nature is not on their side. The army has shown that when the sexes are treated equally as is demanded by law the result is injury. There is a role for women in the forces and they should be trained for the many appropriate positions. If a woman can complete the training to be a commando then fine, if not then there are other roles available.
Gerry Anstey, England

See also:

12 Mar 01 | UK
Changing face of the army
22 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Call for fair ruling on women soldiers
28 May 00 | UK
Battle for equality
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