My physically able 18-year-old brother is now old enough to fight and die for our country. On his birthday a few months ago, he opened the mailbox finding a notice from the government.
Now he, along with other 18 to 25-year-old males in the United States, is officially required to register for the Selective Service, or military draft.
But I, a teen girl in an age when the man still takes on the traditional role of designated protector of our nation, will never have to deal with that — or so I thought.
On Jan. 24, the Department of Defense, under Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, finally granted women the right to participate in combat roles in the military by repealing the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule, which had excluded women from ground combat. Although women for years have been fighting on the front lines and in combat situations unrecognized by law, they will now be able to officially participate in a third more positions than before.
The Department of Defense’s repeal paves the way for us to question aspects of the military denied to women, including mandatory registration for the Selective Service. Although a draft has not been instated since the Vietnam War and all recruitment for war since has been voluntary, men are required to sign up for a peacetime draft when the nation is not actively in a war. Currently there is debate over whether women should have their names on that list, too.
While I do advocate equal rights and equal opportunity and applaud the Pentagon for overruling the combat restriction, I don’t think the military is suited to safely accommodate a possible influx of women without significant changes to current standards and practices. Women, unlike men, should not be drafted involuntarily for the US military because the military’s current practices fail to protect the rights and equality of women in training and on the battlefield.
Until this historic moment, women have been denied jobs in the infantry, special operations and armored units, according to a February 2012 article in USA Today. There have only been two female four-star generals in the US. In this country, women make up 13 percent of the army and 7 percent of the Marine Corps. The Pentagon’s order now opens up over 230,000 new jobs for women, and moving up in rank or progressing in a military career is much more practical and attainable.
But for many women, these expanding rights do not equate with improved treatment. With continually higher rates of sexual assault occurring in the military year after year, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder rates among women have also been rising, according to the Department of Defense 2011 annual report for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response.
In 2011 alone, according to National Public Radio, 3,000 sexual assault cases were reported throughout all U.S. military programs. Of those, 1,108 troops pursued an investigation, 587 of the cases were processed, and a measly 96 were tried in court. What makes our military judicial system seem even worse, is that Panetta believes the statistic of sexual assault victims may actually be upwards of 19,000 victims in one year, most of which are unreported.
Most recently, more than 62 women admitted that they were abused, harassed or raped by 32 different Air Force training staff at the Lackland Air Force Base in Texas in the past four years, according to a Feb. 26 New York Times article. This is the largest military sexual assault scandal in the history of the Air Force.
While one in six civilian women are reported to have experienced sexual assault, the statistic rises to one in three for women in the military. Although military sexual trauma is also present in the male population, the severity by numerical evidence is incomparable to that of women.
For many female soldiers and marines returning from war, living with the physical and mental scars of both rape and war makes it difficult to secure a job, a home and a complete life post-deployment.
The Pentagon reports more effective efforts to improve such situations including expanding military response and requiring training for officers and others to properly handle and address sexual assault. Such progress could greatly improve equality and treatment in armed forces.
The Pentagon should look toward Israel for insight into how such integration would work. Israel’s more gender neutral military program requires a minimum of two years of service for all Israeli female citizens and a minimum of three years for men.
Despite the presence of military sexual trauma in the Israeli Defense Forces, with 500 reported cases of sexual assault annually, 10 percent of those being male, the treatment of women in the military in Israel is quite different from the US because of increased female leadership.
Although only three percent of women serve in combat positions in the IDF and eight percent of roles are prohibited for women, over half of lieutenants are female, according to the New York Times. The IDF also has conducted many campaigns to improve justice for women’s rights and military sexual trauma sufferers.
Palo Alto High School junior Karina Goot, an Israeli citizen, says Israel’s gender-neutral military has improved Israel’s stance on equality.
“By having the required military, a greater portion of the population gets the chance to accept that equality is just a thing,” Goot says. “Everyone has to do it because it is everyone’s country.”
Although more men volunteer and are chosen to fight in the military because of physical capabilities, Goot says that other careers in the IDF like communications and technology-based jobs overlook gender and target specific skills instead.
“For those [skilled jobs] it’s more selective but it’s not based on whether you are a man or woman,” Goot says. “It’s ‘Are you able to do the job?’”
Israel proves that gender-neutral mandatory service is somewhat effective. The IDF demonstrates that with some adjustments improved rights for women are attainable. Get on it, America.
In an ideal world where the military respects a woman’s mental, emotional and physical safety, total gender equality should be the standard to uphold. Until then, I’ll patiently wait for my own notice in the mail when the battlefield has finally levelled out.