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Monday, 2 October, 2000, 07:45 GMT 08:45 UK
Women soldiers could serve on front line
Prince Charles meets female Military Police officers in Kosovo's capital, Pristina
Women serve in the military but not on the front line
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has signalled his support for a change which would allow women to serve on the front line for the first time.

Although women are allowed see combat duty in Canada, Holland, Norway, Israel and the US, the Ministry of Defence has insisted to date that women are incapable of the physical demands of one-to-one combat.

The UK Government has traditionally been worried that a large numbers of women casualties on the front line would be bad for army morale and unacceptable to the public.

A change was signalled earlier this year when the government announced combat trials and mixed regiments for women.

Combat study

A panel of experts will submit a report, A Study of Combat Effectiveness and Gender, to ministers next year. It is considering an end to all gender bias in the armed forces.

Geoffrey Hoon
Hoon says it is up to opponents to prove their case

Nearly one-quarter of all positions in the Armed Forces, including the Household Cavalry, the Royal Armoured Corps and the infantry, are currently barred to women.

In an interview with The Times newspaper, Mr Hoon gave his strongest hint yet that a historic change is long overdue.

He said: "Women are already in frontline jobs in the Armed Forces, with artillery units, as fighter pilots and in warships, which means they are just as likely to be in a position to kill people in combat as men are.

"That would be the same if they had an infantry role.

"My personal take on this issue is that the burden of proof is now on those who want to maintain the present position to show that there will be particular problems which would have an impact on operational effectiveness."

Women in RAF
Women already serve in the RAF

The same test was applied before the ban on homosexuals in the armed forces was lifted by Mr Hoon earlier this year.

In the Times interview Mr Hoon also indicated the size of the British force in Sierra Leone may have to be "augmented" to cope with the threat from rebel forces.

A review is currently being carried out on the size of the force to ensure it has enough protection in event of attack.

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See also:

28 May 00 | UK
Battle for equality
27 Oct 99 | UK
Marines 'can ban women'
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