Gender equality takes step in combat

Farm Forum

Recently, the secretary of defense announced that the long-standing ban on women in combat is to be overturned. A story on Aberdeen reported, “hundreds of thousands of military jobs previously closed to female service members” will soon to be available to women. As a nation, we have come a long way toward achieving gender equity, but are American values ready for the change in military status for women?

Having taught courses related to diversity for the past 11 years, I am a proponent for respecting the rights of all people. Like African-Americans, American Indian, disabled people, gays and lesbians and other disenfranchised and minority groups, women have long struggled for equal rights in the United States. It wasn’t until 1920 that women were finally given the right to vote by way of the 19th Amendment, which provides, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Another more recent and significant event related to gender equity was the passage of Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments Act. This legislation provides, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” College athletics seem to bear the brunt of scrutiny when it comes to Title IX consideration. A few years ago, Northern State University added women’s tennis and swimming as varsity sports. My guess is that the reason the university decided to add those female-only sports was to be in compliance with the requirements of Title IX.

But some vestiges of gender discrimination remain.

The “combat exclusion policy” prohibited women from serving in infantry, artillery, tank and other units that engage in direct combat with the enemy. The problem with this is that combat is no longer limited to the front lines. As reported on, “Of the more than 280,000 women who have served in Afghanistan or Iraq since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 150 have been killed and nearly 1,000 wounded.”

Perhaps the most well-known of these female combat fatalities was Army Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa. She, along with roommate Jessica Lynch, were ambushed and captured by enemy forces in Iraq. Pfc. Piestewa died in captivity. She is believed to be the first American Indian woman to die in combat while serving in the U.S. military. She is also believed to be the first woman killed in the Iraq war.

So isn’t this all moot? Supporters of the ban claim it is just too hard to see our daughters, wives and mothers injured or killed on the battlefield. But is it really any harder than watching the same for our sons, husbands and fathers? Or is it really just disguised discrimination?

Former Marine Capt. Anu Bhagwati says, “I know countless women whose careers have been stunted by the combat exclusion in all the branches.” By abolishing the combat ban, gender equity is that much closer today.

Alan L. Neville is an associateprofessor of education at Northern State University. The views are his and do not represent NSU.