My mother joined the army and went to Vietnam in 1968 and that makes her one of the bravest women I know. She worked in a hospital, as did most women who served in the war. She was an administrator; one of the few women who were not nurses. It goes without saying that there weren’t many women serving in the armed forces back then. Only about 7,000 of the more than 3 million armed service members were women.
Now the number of active duty women in the military is over 32,000 or 14%, and as with all male-dominated industries, women have to break barriers, fight for equal pay and promotions, and face discrimination and abuse. In one of the US military’s most comprehensive surveys on the problem, 1 in 5 women serving in the military said she had experienced sexual assault, more than 80 percent by fellow US service members.
In response to decades of complaints by women in the military, the Pentagon has finally started to address the rampant sexual assaults in their ranks. Recently, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met with lawmakers from the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus to discuss new measures that, he promised them, will “fundamentally change” the way the Pentagon prosecutes cases of sexual assault. The plan calls for a new sexual assault unit and requires investigators to run cases further up the command chain.
In other big news, two women recently filed a lawsuit against the federal government because not allowing them to fight on the front lines makes them ineligible for raises and promotions that would lead to higher salaries and pensions, violating their 5th amendment rights. While new positions have opened up, over 250,000 jobs still remain closed to women- jobs that are necessary to advance and break through the “brass ceiling.”
Not only are these trailblazing women fighting for their futures, but they are fighting for a new kind of American military. More women in top leadership might drastically change the way it runs. At the very least we would have diverse viewpoints leading the military, but if we dream big we could end up with a radically different approach to military service that would affect people all over the world.