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Posted on Jan 14, 2002 Print this Article


An extensive study ordered by British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has reportedly recommended that women should not be allowed to fight in the front line. Citing evidence gathered over 18 months, the "Combat Effectiveness Gender Study" concluded that females lack the strength and stamina needed to serve in the infantry, armored regiments, Royal Marines or the RAF Regiment, the Air Force’s infantry unit.

In compiling the study for review by the Chiefs of Staff, British Army officials gathered information from several other countries with gender-integrated armed forces, and carried out tests of physical capabilities in Wales. According to the London Sunday Times, June 24, 2001, the women performed comparatively poorly in physical tasks:

  • In a test requiring soldiers to carry 90 lbs. of artillery shells over measured distances, the male failure rate was 20%. The female failure rate was 70%.
  • In a 12.5-mile route march carrying 60 lbs. of equipment, followed by target practice simulating conditions under fire, men failed in 17% of cases. Women failed in 48%.
  • Females were generally slower in simulated combat exercises involving lengthy "fire and move" situations, in which participants had to sprint from one position to another in full battle dress.
  • In close-quarter battle tests, including hand-to-hand combat, women suffered much higher injury rates.

Negative findings in the Combat Effectiveness Gender Study are even more significant in view of the fact that test exercises reportedly had been so diluted and watered down that they amounted to little more than "aggressive camping." (Electronic Telegraph, Mar. 26, 2001) According to Brig. Seymour Monro, the Army’s Director of Infantry, tasks that women soldiers were not physically capable of performing had been made easier or dropped from the trials.

Another military source told the Telegraph that women were not capable of a number of tasks under battlefield conditions, such as digging themselves into hard ground under fire. "The girls could not do it. So they decided to reduce the level of the tests for everybody, which kept it gender neutral but meant that of course the girls did OK." Heavy weapons and tanks were not used in the trials.

According to Army Times, a British medical report released in June of 2001 found that the rate of injuries among military women in co-ed training had tripled to 23 per 1,000 in 1996, from a 1992 rate of 8 per 1,000. (June 25, 2001) On January 3, 2002, an Army doctor confirmed that female soldiers were paying for "equal opportunities" with a much higher risk of injury.

In addition to shortcomings in physical strength, the report said that the cohesion of frontline units suffers when women are introduced, because men’s behavior becomes "more instinctive and less professional." The finding mirrored testimony presented to America’s 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Services by instructors who teach Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) techniques. SERE trainers from Fairchild AFB, WA, said that it was necessary to "desensitize" men whose stronger reaction to simulated violence against women could be exploited by an enemy holding male and female captives.

A prominent British feminist, defense minister Baroness Symons, argued in a magazine interview that military men should have instincts to protect female colleagues drilled out of them. "It is a question of training men so that in those circumstances [combat] they will not protect somebody else before doing their primary duty just on the basis of the gender of the person." A former member of the British Equal Opportunity Commission, Baroness Symons also expressed the hope that within 30 years the services will consist of 51% women, and that a woman will become Chief of the Defence Staff. Senior Army commanders were highly critical of that view. (London Sunday Times, Jan. 14, 2001)

When the "Combat Effectiveness Gender Study" was initiated, it was widely expected that the Army’s field trials would demonstrate that women were physically capable of serving in land combat units. Defence Minister Geoff Hoon previously had expressed support for the idea. During the 2001 elections, some Labour Party leaders questioned the premise that the armed forces exist to defend the United Kingdom and project power around the world. Instead, some said the military was a kind of human rights agency, and that "warfighting does not represent the primary function of our Armed Services." (Electronic Telegraph Mar. 26, 2001)

The September 11, 2001, terrorist Attack on America seems to have changed that attitude dramatically. According to sources close to the situation, the drive to assign women to British land combat units has come to a halt.

London Times, 6/24/01, "Women Soldiers Judged Too Weak to Join Front Line," James Clark; Electronic Daily Telegraph, 3/26/01

Posted on Jan 14, 2002 Print this Article