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Monday, 5 June, 2000, 08:55 GMT 09:55 UK
Should women soldiers fight on the front-line?

Women soldiers in the UK are to be put through combat trials to see if they've got what it takes for front-line fighting.

The Ministry of Defence's move to give women a chance to prove their worth is a direct challenge to the traditional Armed Forces view that female soldiers are not capable of front-line combat.

Women in the US, Canada, Holland, Norway, Israel and Eritrea are given the chance to battle it out side-by-side with men, so why not in Britain?

Do you think it is high time female soldiers were treated equally, or do you consider front-line battle a job best left 'to the boys'?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction



The female airmen at my base are just as committed as their male counterparts. I'm proud to have them as part of the team

John G, Texas, USA
Sure there are women in our society who can't cut the mustard, but there are also many men who don't measure up. That's what basic training is for - to weed out the undesirables. The female airmen at my base are just as committed as their male counterparts. I'm proud to have them as part of the team.
John G, Texas, USA

I am Captain in an Armoured Regiment of the Canadian Army, so I took notice of the mention of Canada as a gender mixed army. It is my experience that few women wish to join the combat trades, and the Canadian Forces, despite its desperate efforts, has fallen dramatically short of its recruiting "targets" (NOT Quotas!). Of those women who do join, more than 90% do not finish their first contract, quitting due to pregnancy, injury, or general lack of wherewithal. For most of those women who have joined, their presence has been made easier by the abolition (not lowering) of physical fitness standards. As an officer, I can no longer dismiss a trooper who cannot keep up physically, nor do I have any legal way of forcing him/her to shape-up. How has this made us a better army? It is not worth compromising a nation's military strength for a liberal political agenda. Women are not physically suited for the combat trades. Frankly, they should be happy about this.
KG, Canada

No women should not be put on the front line. Western society is worried about growing violence among the young women, now you want to officially sanction that violence.
Richard T. Ketchum, USA

For my last two years in the Royal Signals, I was the Troop Corporal for the Royal Signals leadership course. We had some outstanding female students attend the course. Not all women are incompetent, there are some very professional ones in the Army. However, I must agree with Charlie Roost on the dropping of standards to accommodate today's society. If the Government decides that women can join, do not drop the standards already set by experience. This will only lead to resentment and the lowering of morale.
Mick Law, England



A senior female US general has already admitted that the drive to put women into fighting units has backfired to the extent that the US forces are less effective and could not be risked in conflicts where a certain win was not guaranteed

Gerry, Scotland
It's interesting that the arguments that the "antis" come out with are exactly the same as those that have been used to discriminate against any group thought of as "inferior". Such inferiority is invariably in the mind of those aiming to maintain their cosy status quo.
Dave Graham, UK

Having spent most of my adult life in the Army, the Royal Signals in particular, I have recently seen dropping standards of fitness in younger recruits, both male and female. The result of which, was a reduction of physical fitness tests to bring them into line.
Charlie Roost, England

A note to Brenda on her comment "...what about sexual tension between gay men...". This is exactly why gays were excluded from the military. Now they've been let back in we might as well have women, and while we're at it let's not discriminate against the disabled. Wheelchair regiment anyone?
John R, UK

PC madness. A senior female US general has already admitted that the drive to put women into fighting units has backfired to the extent that the US forces are less effective and could not be risked in conflicts where a certain win was not guaranteed.
Gerry, Scotland



In the cramped conditions of a tank, submarine, assault aircraft etc, where will a female recruit store her numerous bags of makeup?

John K, UK
I was once in the TA, as part of the Bristol OTC. I remember a night march. We redistributed weight within our section - i.e. the blokes carried much of the women's kit. This included weapons and ammunition. We should not have done this. If it was a real war, and we'd come under attack, the women would have been under-equipped. The problem is as much a man's instinct for chivalry as the difference in physical ability. Women can fight. But mixed units on the front line would get people killed.
Michael Grazebrook, UK

In the cramped conditions of a tank, submarine, assault aircraft etc, where will a female recruit store her numerous bags of makeup?
John K, UK

An excellent idea. The only soldiers on the front line should be women because, as other contributors have rightly pointed out, they can be considerably more aggressive then men. Why should good honest men risk their lives when women can do it for us? We could all stay at home watching the footie and enjoying a can of beer.
Chris Grimshaw, UK



The argument that it would upset the male soldiers is really quite daft - they are professionals, they would learn to deal with it

Mike, UK
It's a shame that the differences between men and women in this debate have been treated so vehemently, as if one sex was superior to the other. I would argue that women fighting alongside men could provoke some difficult situations though. All recent psychological studies show that men and women cope with extreme stress in different ways. Whilst I wouldn't say one was better than the other, I would argue that they aren't particularly compatible, especially on the battlefield.
Phil, UK

It is not a question of whether women are capable or not. I believe many are. But under battlefield conditions it is a serious morale destroyer to see your male colleague blown to bits or seriously wounded. Seeing the same happen to a woman would seriously undermine the confidence of a squad or platoon. However in a supporting role, which is no less demeaning, I think women's natural ability to organise is a godsend for an army.
Mark, Germany

All this talk about women being "nurturing", and men wanting to protect them is ludicrous. This is the year 2000, not the dark ages. Not all women are the same - neither are all men. If a woman wants to go and fight, and is capable of it, she should be able to. The argument that it would upset the male soldiers is really quite daft. They are professionals, they would learn to deal with it. Equally feeble arguments used to be given for preventing women from having access to other jobs - even from voting. We have moved on since then but clearly there is still a way to go.
Mike, UK



As an ex-infantry soldier who has been on active service, I would not be able to trust a female infantry soldier with my life in close combat

Justin, UK
Anyone who knows anything about military history will tell you that women have been fighting on the front line and alongside men in battle for hundreds of years, throughout the world. History shows us there is no reason, particularly now with increased technological and intelligence warfare and less physical fighting, that women should not fight directly alongside men.
Laura, England

I am currently employed as a reconnaissance vehicle commander and would have no problems working alongside or under the command of a female. To say that they aren't capable is ridiculous. My job is physically and mentally demanding but I am under no illusions that the right female could do it with no problems. The other issue is the environment we work in. We can and frequently do work in close confinement. For me taking care of personal hygiene matters in front of my crew is not a problem. How we would work around this with women present just adds another problem to our daily routine.
Tim, Wales

As an ex-infantry soldier who has been on active service, I would not be able to trust a female infantry soldier with my life in close combat. Come to that, I do not trust the politicians with my life either!
Justin, UK

As far as I am aware, Israel has now withdrawn women from frontline combat situations. They were not pioneers in the "women in combat" scenario. Russia was, in WW1. They did, however, form "women only battalions". From the limited experiences of women in actual combat situations, as opposed to exercises, the issue appears to be not with the capabilities of women but the attitude of male comrades where a "natural" protectiveness towards women has a detrimental effect on the effectiveness of the operational unit.
DL, UK



It is worrying that we are talking about women soldiers when perhaps we should be addressing the problem of child soldiers

Sue Doughty, UK
Women should only be allowed onto the front line if they are physically and emotionally fit for battle, and if they are willing to accept the consequences of failure (e.g. gang rape, torture, death, etc) as their male counterparts have to. I wonder how long it will be before a recovered female soldier sues on the basis she was not protected from the sexual attentions of the enemy soldiers.
John S, UK

Who cares? The UK is so insignificant these days that you could fill your army with chimpanzees, and still be just as effective on the world stage.
M. Conomos, Australia

If they are stupid enough to join the army in the first place, they are stupid enough go and get themselves killed.
Stevie B, UK

I would have thought it would be far more beneficial to the country if politicians had to serve in front line units. That might make them think twice before coming up with the daft ideas they do.
Shaun McDermott, England

Some good reasons have been given in this discussion, but using PMT or some other "mood" problem is not acceptable. We don't talk about poor performance or bad temper when a man has a hangover, but for colleagues this may be just as much an issue. It is also worrying that we are talking about women soldiers when perhaps we should be addressing the problem of child soldiers. The UK, unlike much of Europe, still sends under 18 year olds to fight.
Sue Doughty, UK



A great day for women! Now they can go out and die for their country as well.

Andrew, Belgium
A great day for women! Now they can go out and die for their country as well. This has to be a good thing, yes? If (or rather when) there's another major war a single woman regular soldier fighting on the front line will provide sufficient justification for the general call up of able-bodied women. It should also reduce the chance of any individual man being called up by 50%.
Andrew, Belgium

If women were truly as good as men, then they wouldn't need countless employment legislation changes to change them. But of course they should be allowed to fight on the front line. I don't see however, why men have got to fight with them. All the women that want to fight on the front line, can join a single regiment, and fight alongside other women. I don't see why they should cost many men their lives as well as their own. All the soldiers I've spoken to think that it's just ridiculous.
Ian Ward, England



If we are good enough to be selected to serve then surely we deserve the right to fight in the field.

Brenda, Australia
As an ex-member of the Australian Defence Force who served in the Military Police I would like to register my opinion that women should be allowed to serve on the front line. Do you not think that we have had to endure the same training to get where we are? Women are calmer in many situations and are level headed. This notion of PMS and emotional irrational behaviour is silly. I have seen grown men cry after some parts of my basis training and what about sexual tension between gay men. Don't bury your head in the sand and think that that doesn't happen because it does. If a woman is professional enough to carry out the work of a service person then don't you think that their level of training would ensure that they are nothing but professional in the field. Come on people grow up. If we are good enough to be selected to serve then surely we deserve the right to fight in the field.
Brenda, Australia

Writing as an ex-tank soldier in the British Army I think the majority of lads would find this prospect very interesting until the novelty wore off, but for the wrong reasons and certainly it would not contribute to the fighting effectiveness of the unit. Do politicians understand the implications for women in a tank closed down for 48hrs with men. There is no place for privacy when requiring the toilet or washing.
Tim, UK

Having served with the Royal Marines for a number of years I have yet to see a woman who could match the physical capability of front line assault troops. I believe women certainly do have the potential and it has been proven. But day after day carrying a 100 pounds plus in atrocious conditions. War is about killing and winning not giving someone a chance because they think they might be good at it. Prove it ladies. I think more specialist roles in front line conditions such as providing close protection or covert surveillance is more suited to women as they have already proven been very effective at it.
Steve L, South Africa



Paths of glory only lead to the grave. All you can expect in a war is to be killed or injured.

Robin Peters, UK
Combat is a filthy business, without any of the glamour that Hollywood portrays. I am amazed that anyone (male or female) would be eager to see combat. Women should have more sense than to want to put themselves in the firing line. Paths of glory only lead to the grave. All you can expect in a war is to be killed or injured. It's all very well talking about equality, but everything changes when people start getting killed. Women should be grateful that they are excluded from combat. I can assure you that the vast majority of men in this country would be reluctant participants in any war.
Robin Peters, UK

Political correctness gone mad again. If there were any real prospect of another war this issue wouldn't be proposed by anyone but a fool
Geoff Evans, UK



Women only deserve equal rights if they are prepared to shoulder equal responsibilities and that means doing the "dirty" jobs too

B. Smith, UK
We can try and deny it, but sexual tension does exist, and that is the last thing that is needed in the middle of a military operation. I would have thought the disaster of having mixed crews on ships would have been enough of a lesson.
Thomas Randall, UK

Why not? At the right time of month, all of the women I know are considerably more aggressive than any men I know!
Neil, UK

Jenni thinks that women's lives should not be cheapened by making them expendable. Does that mean that men's lives are cheap and expendable? Women are too good for fighting are they? Women only deserve equal rights if they are prepared to shoulder equal responsibilities and that means doing the "dirty" jobs too.
B. Smith, UK



One only has to look at the US armed forces to see how misguided this type of policy can be

Major (retired) Chris Klein, UK
This should be left to the soldiers to decide, not to meddlesome politicians whose only exposure to danger is the hack's "awkward question". One only has to look at the US armed forces to see how misguided this type of policy can be.
Major (retired) Chris Klein, UK

I don't see why women should not fight in the front lines, but then again I don't see why females in the army are treated in a more softly softly manner than their male counterparts as many a documentary has shown. Surely this is counter productive, both in terms of morale and acceptance between the sexes and in terms of their fighting motivation. I mean if they can't take an officer shouting at them how are they supposed to survive being raped when they are captured? For this will happen. But then again, why is this any worse than a male soldier either being raped or just as likely killed?
Ian, Scotland



I would be worried for the male soldiers who would take higher casualties as a result of this potentially foolish idea

William Lack, England
I do not believe in positive discrimination. Any job should go to the person most suited and able to carry out their duties, including within the armed forces. If women are physically and mentally able to fight on the front line and this does not badly affect their male colleagues, then yes, they should be allowed to fight.
Brian Jenkins, England

I think it is a dreadful idea. The infantry is all about killing - not remote guided missile killing, but hand to hand combat using bayonet and trenching, if necessary, to kill your enemy. I think men are biologically and physiologically better suited to do this. I know that women make better terrorists because they cross a line that we don't expect women to cross but they are the very, very small exception. I would be worried for the male soldiers who would take higher casualties as a result of this potentially foolish idea.
William Lack, England

Why not? Everyone remembers how aggressive the girls where at school in playground fights? Anyway, why should dying for your country be for the preserve of men only?
Mark Massie, United Kingdom



Imagine a female soldier, recently jilted, and also perhaps suffering from a bad case of PMT, armed, and behind another soldier on a dark night in combat

Vic Chapman, UK
Not a good idea, and not because they are not good enough. If there is a situation where a female unit gets into deep trouble on the battlefield there could be a problem in preventing male units, who are in a vital position, from going to their assistance and thus leaving their own area vulnerable (male weakness). Imagine also a female soldier, recently jilted, and also perhaps suffering from a bad case of PMT, armed, and behind another soldier on a dark night in combat. Worst cases I agree but there are too many reasons not to do this, All male OR all female in combat, but not mixed.
Vic Chapman, UK



A good soldier is a good soldier, regardless of gender

Lisa, UK
Is that the sound of knuckles dragging on the ground I hear? Vic Chapman - what planet are you on? It is a fact that men have a higher suicide rate, are more prone to depression and cope far worse than women with the breakdown of their relationships so who mentally is the stronger sex - WOMEN of course.
If women have passed all the necessary tests just as the men have then why shouldn't they be able to fight alongside them? A good soldier is a good soldier, regardless of gender. Although it could be argued that men may be physically stronger than women; the armed forces aren't just about brawn. Effective communication, the ability to motivate and encourage teams, good management skills and lateral thinking etc etc. These are all skills which women naturally have in abundance and ones which the forces can only benefit from in times of combat. Get back to the stone age Vic.
Lisa, UK

Of course women are capable of undertaking front-line jobs. However, whether or not this is a good idea is a separate issue.
In the past two world wars, millions of men were killed. However, the remaining reduced number of men were able to keep the world population thriving - one man can impregnate a large number of women, but a woman can only carry one child at a time. What would give the greater chance of human life continuing - one man and 50 women, or 50 men and one woman?
Also, would we want women to learn to suppress their natural nurturing instincts in favour of a 'he's the enemy, kill him' mentality? Throughout the history of humankind, women have been worshipped as the bearers of life, not death. Do we wish to cheapen their lives now by making them expendable?
Jenni, UK



Israeli women have proven themselves to be quite formidable in real combat

John Alkire, UK/USA
Israeli women have proven themselves to be quite formidable in real combat. Are British women or those of any other country less capable? Why do men opposed to women in combat feel so threatened?
John Alkire, UK/USA

The simple fact of the matter is that women do not have the capability either physically or mentally. I spent eighteen years in the British Army having left only recently and I can assure everyone that, although women were more than capable of doing their day to day jobs such as administration etc., when it came to actual soldiering they were a liability.
No doubt people will accuse me of being sexist but the facts speak for themselves. The army has had to lower the pass times for the six-monthly physical tests because women could not match the men. They whinge constantly and have to be closely monitored when handling weapons.
Pete, Scotland

Why not? If they're up to it both physically and mentally, I fully support the idea.
Alex Banks, Wales

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See also:

28 May 00 | UK
Battle for equality
22 Jul 99 | Battle in the Horn
Eritrea's women fighters
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