Women in the military by country
|Women in society|
Recent history of changes in women's roles includes having women in the military in many countries.
- 1 Africa
- 2 Asia and Oceania
- 3 Europe
- 4 North America
- 5 South America
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Female soldiers in Eritrea played a large role in both the Eritrean civil war and the border dispute with Ethiopia, because they make up more than 30% of the Eritrean military. They also serve in direct combat operations.
A 200-strong unit was Muammar al-Gaddafi's personal bodyguard and is called variously the "Green Nuns" and "The Amazonian Guard" or more commonly in Libya The Revolutionary Nuns (Arabic: الراهبات الثوريات) .
South African women have a long history of service in the South African Defence Force(SADF) and in the modern South African National Defence Force(SANDF). In World War I and World War II women served in auxiliary roles in the South African Defence Force and were assigned to non-combat active roles after 1970. In 1914 a volunteer nursing service was established by the army and 328 nurses to serve with South African troops in Europe and East Africa in World War I. The Women's Auxiliary Army Service began accepting women recruits in 1916. Officials estimated that women volunteers relieved 12,000 men for combat in World War I by assuming clerical and other duties. During World War II, South Africa had five service organizations for women—the South African Military Nursing Service, and women's auxiliaries attached to the army, the navy, the air force, and the military police.
During the late 1970s and 1980s, women were active in civil defence organizations and were being trained as part of the country's general mobilization against possible terrorist attacks. In 1989, for example, the Johannesburg Civil Defence Program provided training for 800 civil defense volunteers, about one-half of whom were women. These classes included such subjects as weapons training for self-defense, antiriot procedures, traffic and crowd control, first aid, and fire-fighting. An unreported number of women also received instruction in counterinsurgency techniques and commando operations. Women also served in military elements of liberation militias in the 1970s and the 1980s, and women were accepted into the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation, also known as Umkhonto—MK), throughout the antiapartheid struggle.
In 1995 women of all races were being incorporated into the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), and a woman officer, Brigadier Jackie Sedibe, was appointed to oversee the implementation of new SANDF policies concerning the treatment of women. Women had been promoted as high as warrant officers and brigadiers in the Permanent Force by the early 1990s, but only ten women were SADF colonels in 1994. In 1996 Brigadier Sedibe became the first woman in the military to be promoted to the rank of major general. Widespread cultural attitudes in the 1990s still oppose the idea of women in combat, but officials are debating ways to assign women an equitable share of the leadership positions in the military. In 2011 almost 26.6% of the uniformed services of the South African National Defence Force consisted of women.
Asia and Oceania
The first women became involved with the Australian armed forces with the creation of the Army Nursing Service in 1899. Currently, women make up 12.8% of the Australian Defence Force (with 15.1% in the Royal Australian Air Force, 14.6% in the Royal Australian Navy and 10.5% in the Australian Army) and 17.5% of the reserves. However, only 74% of the total number of available roles in the Australian armed forces are available to women. Despite this, using 1998-99 figures, the ADF had the highest percentage of women in its employ in the world. In 1998, Australia became the fourth nation in the world to allow women to serve on its submarines.
Like many other countries, Australia does not currently permit women to serve in the following military positions involving 'direct combat', as defined by the 1983 Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW):
- Clearance diving teams
- Infantry including Special Forces
- Combat Engineers
- Airfield Defence Guards or Ground Defence Officers
Women can serve in combat units or at times in combat, but they currently cannot serve in combat roles in combat units. So whilst a woman could not be a Royal Australian Armored Corps Driver/Signaller in an Armored unit such as 2 Cav Regt, they could serve as medic, storeman, RAEME tradesperson in 2 Cav Regt. Women in such roles undertake the same training and undertake the same jobs as their male counterparts. For example, women medics were deployed to 5/7 RAR company patrol bases as part of the INTERFET force in East Timor.In 1975, women did train as Radio Operators with Royal Australian Signals Corps, of which a few served in 2 Sig Regt, which is a Field Force Unit.
Health and safety reasons also exclude women from surface finishing and electroplating within the Air Force due to the use of embryo-toxic substances. Australia was the fourth country to permit female crew on submarines, doing so in June 1998 on board Collins class submarines. Australia's first deployment of female sailors in a combat zone was aboard HMAS Westralia in the Persian Gulf during the 1991 Gulf War.
On 27 September 2011, Defence Minister Stephen Smith announced that women will be allowed to serve in frontline combat roles by 2016.
Democratic People's Republic of Korea
The DPRK allows women to serve in combat roles.
|This section requires expansion. (November 2015)|
Some women served in various positions in the IDF, including infantry, radio operators and transport pilots in the 1948 war of independence and "Operation Kadesh" in 1956, but later the Air Force closed its ranks to female pilots, and women were restricted from combat positions. There is a draft of both men and women. Most women serve in non-combat positions, and are conscripted for two years (instead of three for men). A landmark high court appeal in 1994 forced the Air Force to accept women air cadets. In 2001, Israel's first female combat pilot received her wings. In 1999 the Caracal company was formed, as a non segregated infantry company. In 2000 it was expanded into a Battalion (called The 33rd, for the 33 women killed in combat during the War of Independence) since then, further combat positions have opened to women, including Artillery, Field Intelligence, Search and Rescue, NBC, Border Patrol, K-9 Unit and anti-aircraft warfare.
On May 26, 2011, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz announced Brigadier General Orna Barbivay's appointment as the next Head of the IDF Personnel Directorate. Barbivay was promoted to Major General, thus becoming the most senior female officer in the history of the IDF.
It is worth noting that Peoples Liberation Army, a guerrilla army fighting the government, have a 30% female participation quota for their combat forces, and frequently claim 40% actual participation. A proposal of a 40% female combat troop quota in the future Nepal Army has been frequently forwarded publicly by Maoist leaders during their peace negotiations with the current government.
New Zealand has no restrictions on roles for women in its defence force. They are able to serve in the Special Air Service infantry, armour and artillery. (So far no woman has yet made it into the Special Air Service.) This came into effect in 2001 by subordinate legislation, with a report in 2005 finding that the move helped drive a societal shift that "values women as well as men" but that integration of women into combat roles "needed a deliberate and concerted effort".
Women in the Pakistan Armed Forces are the female soldiers who serve in the Pakistan Armed Forces. Pakistan is the only country in the Islamic world to have women appointed in the high ranking assignments and the general officer ranks, as well as performing their military duties in the hostile and combat military operations. Women have been taking part in Pakistan military since 1947 after the establishment of Pakistan, currently a strong sizable unit of women soldiers who are serving in the Pakistan Armed Forces. In 2006, the first women fighter pilots batch joined the combat aerial mission command of PAF and women in Pakistan Army have been trained in combat missions, particularly in sniper, airborne and infantry warfare.
The Pakistan Navy is currently the only uniform service branch where women are restricted to serve in the combat missions especially in the submarine force command, rather they are appointed and served in the operation involving the military logistics, operational planning, staff development and the senior administrative offices, particularly in the regional and central headquarters.
Bangladesh Army started recruiting female soldiers from 2013.
People's Republic of China
Female comprise an estimated 25.5% of the People's Liberation Army forces.
Since the beginning of the creation of the Philippine military approximately on October 25, 1899 with the establishment of the Academia Militar in Malolos, Bulacan by virtue of a decree issued by General Emilio Aguinaldo, the first president of the Philippine Republic, through the establishment of the Philippine Constabulary on February 17, 1905 while the Philippines was under American colonial rule (1898-1946), then through the formal creation of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) by virtue of Commonwealth Act No. 1 (also known as the National Defense Act) on December 21, 1936, the Armed Forces of the Philippines never had female soldiers. Having women in the Philippine military with formal training became a reality upon the passage of Republic Act No. 7192, which granted women in the Philippines to become cadets in the Philippine Military Academy in April 1993.
Singapore allows women to serve in combat roles, although females are not conscripted.
Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) was the first service of the Sri Lankan military to allow women to serve, accepting female recruits to the Sri Lanka Volunteer Air Force in 1972. The Sri Lanka Army followed in 1979 with the establishment of the Sri Lanka Army Women's Corps (SLAWC). Since then, each service has for both administrative and practical reasons maintained separate units for women. These are the SLAWC and the SLAF Women's Wing; the Sri Lanka Navy does not have a specific name for women's units. In order to maintain discipline, all three services have women MPs attached to their respective military police/provost corps.
Currently, female personnel of all three services play an active part in ongoing operations. However, there are certain limitations in 'direct combat' duties such as special forces, pilot branch, naval fast attack squadrons. These are only a few restrictions; female personnel have been tasked with many front line duties and attached to combat units such as paratroops, SLAF Regiment, as well as undertaken support services such as control tower operators, electronic warfare technicians, radio material teletypewriters, automotive mechanics, aviation supply personnel, cryptographers, doctors, combat medics, lawyers, engineers and aerial photographers. In the Sri Lanka Navy female personnel were at first limited to the medical branch, however currently both lady officers and female rates are able to join any branch of service including the executive branch. With the escalation of the Sri Lankan civil war, many female personnel have come under enemy fire both directly and indirectly thus taking many casualties including fatalities. As of 2008 there were three female officers of the rank of Major General and one Commodore.
The Sri Lanka Civil Defence Force, formerly the Sri Lanka Home Guard, has been open to women recruits since 1988. In 1993, these guardswomen were issued firearms and deployed to protect their home towns and villages against attacks by LTTE. As a result, there have been many casualties (including fatalities) from attacks.
Thailand has recently begun recruiting and training women to conduct counter-insurgency operations. A ranger commander said that when women are protesting, "It is better for women to do the talking. Male soldiers look tough and aggressive. When women go and talk, people tend to be more relaxed".
Women were employed in the Danish armed forces as early as 1934 with the Ground Observer Corps, Danish Women’s Army Corps and Naval Corps in 1946 and the Women’s Air Force since 1953. In 1962, the Danish parliament passed laws allowing women to volunteer in the regular Danish armed forces as long as they did not serve in units experiencing direct combat. 1971 saw the enlistment of women as non-commissioned officers, with military academies allowing women in 1974.
In 1978, based on the reports of studies on the topic, women were allowed to enlist in an all areas of the Danish armed forces, with combat trials in the eighties exploring the capabilities of women in combat. In 1998, laws were passed allowing women to sample military life in the same way as conscripted men, however without being completely open to conscription. Since then females have served in infantry units in both Iraq and in combat in Afghanistan. Women in the Danish military come under the command of the Chief of Defense. As of January 2010, women make up 5% of the army, 6.9% of the navy, and 8.6% of air force personnel.
The Finnish Defense Forces does not conscript women. However, since 1995, women between 18 and 30 years of age have the possibility of voluntarily undertaking military service in the Defence Forces or in the Border Guard. Women generally serve under the same conditions as men.
The history of women in the Finnish military is, however, far longer than just since 1995. During the Finnish Civil War, the Reds had several Naiskaarti (Women's Guard) units made of voluntary 16- to 35-year-old women, who were given rudimentary military training. The reactions on women in military were ambivalent during the Civil War.
The non-combat duties in Finnish Defence Forces peace-keeping operations opened to women in 1991. Since 1995 the women are allowed to serve in all combat arms including front-line infantry and special forces both in Finland and in operations outside Finland.
In the 1800s, women in the French military were responsible for preparing meals for soldiers, and were called cantinières. They sold food to soldiers beyond that which was given to them as rations. Cantinières had commissions from the administrators of the regiments, and they were required to be married to a soldier of the regiment. They served near the front lines on active campaigns, and some served for as long as 30 years. During the Wars of the French Revolution, some women enlisted in the army, mainly in support roles. Marie-Angélique Duchemin is the first woman with a recorded rank in the French Army, being promoted Corporal and Acting Sergeant in 1794. She was promoted 2nd Lieutenant on the retired list in 1815. Duchemin is the first woman decorated with the Legion of Honor, in 1851.
The role of women in the French military grew in 1914 with the recruitment of women as medical personnel (Service de Santé des Armées). In 1939, they were authorized to enlist with the armed service branches, and in 1972 their status evolved to share the same ranks as those of men. Nonetheless, women are still not permitted to join the field combat units or to be aboard the submarines of the French navy.
Valérie André, a neurosurgeon, became the first woman in France to attain the rank of three-star general as Médecin Général Inspecteur. A veteran of the French Resistance, she served overseas in Indochina. During that period, she learned how to pilot a helicopter so that she could reach wounded soldiers who were trapped in the jungle. André is the first woman to have flown a helicopter in combat. She received many decorations for her achievements, including the highest rank of the Legion of Honour. She retired from active service in 1981.
Today women make up around 15% of all service personnel in the combined branches of the French military. They are 11% of the Army forces, 13% for the Navy, 21% of the Air Force and 50% of the Medical Corps. This is the highest proportion of female personnel in Europe.
Since the creation of the Bundeswehr in 1955, Germany had employed one of the most conservative gender-policies of any NATO country. That was generally regarded as a reaction to the deployment of young women at the end of World War II. Though women were exempt from direct combat functions in accordance with Nazi-ideology, several hundred thousand German women, along with young boys and sometimes girls (as Flakhelfer), served in Luftwaffe artillery units; their flak shot down thousands of Allied warplanes.
In the year 1975 the first female medical officers were appointed in the Sanitätsdienst of the Bundeswehr. Since 1994, two women, Verena von Weymarn and Erika Franke, attained the rank of Generalarzt. But it was not until January 2001 that women first joined German combat units, following a court ruling by the European Court of Justice.
There are no restrictions regarding the branch of service, and there are woman serving in the "Fallschirmjäger" and as Tornado fighter pilot.
In the Irish 1916 Rising, Cumann na mBan, the women's wing of the Irish Volunteers, fought alongside them in the streets of Dublin and in the General Post Office, the Irish Volunteers' HQ. Constance Markievicz, an Irish Revolutionary and suffragette, commanded male and female troops during the Rising.
The Defence (Amendment) (No. 2) Act, 1979, allowed women to join the Irish Defence Forces for the first time and was passed by the Oireachtas in 1979, making them the first European Armed Forces to allow women all roles in the military including combat roles, and even join the Irish Army Ranger Wing (Fianoglach), the Irish Special Forces, similar to the British SAS. There are no restrictions for women to the "full range of operational and administrative duties." As of January 2010 the number of women in the Permanent Defence Forces is 565, 5.7 percent of the total.
Women in Norway have been able to fill military roles since 1938, and during the Second World War both enlisted women and female officers served in all branches of the military. However, in 1947 political changes commanded that women only serve in civilian posts, with reservists allowing women to join them in 1959. Female personnel currently make up around 7% of the army.
Between 1977 and 1984, the Norwegian Parliament passed laws expanding the role of women in the Norwegian Armed Forces, and in 1985 equal opportunities legislation was applied to the military.
From 2009 all female citizens are obligated to meet for the conscription board, examining and classification just like men, but the national service is voluntary. The Parliament of Norway plans conscription for women on equal terms with men in 2015.
Women have taken part in the battles for independence against occupiers and invaders since at least the time of the Napoleonic Wars. During the occupation by the Nazis, 1939–1945, several thousand women took part in the resistance movement as members of the Home Army and the People's Army. The Germans were forced to establish special prisoner-of-war camps after the Warsaw Rising in 1944 to accommodate over a thousand women prisoners.
In April 1938 the law requiring compulsory military service for men included provisions for voluntary service of women in auxiliary roles, in the medical services, in the anti-aircraft artillery and in communications. In 1939 a Women's Military Training Organization was established under the command of Maria Wittek.
In present Poland a law passed April 6, 2004 requires all women with college nursing or veterinary degrees to register for compulsory service. In addition it allows women to volunteer and serve as professional personnel in all services of the army. As of June 30, 2007 there are 800 women in the army, of which 471 are officers, 308 non-commissioned officers and 21 other ranks, in addition 225 are in military training schools. Two active duty Polish women have achieved the rank of Colonel. Maria Wittek was the 1st Polish woman to reach the rank of General.
During the First World War, heavy defeats led to the loss of millions of Russian Imperial soldiers. To psychologically energize morale Alexander Kerensky (leader of Russia of the Russian Provisional Government) ordered the creation of the Woman’s Death Battalion in May 1917. After three months of fighting, the size of this all-female unit fell from 2,000 to 250. In November 1917, the Bolsheviks dissolved the unit. Shortly after Russia became part of the Soviet Union (see above for the role of woman in Soviet military) until December 1991.
The current tally of woman in the Russian Army is standing at around 115,000 to 160,000, representing 10% of Russia’s military strength.
The Russian army runs the Miss Russian Army beauty contest for attractive female Russian soldiers. Colonel Gennady Dzyuba, of the Defense Ministry, said of the 2005 contest that "Those who have served, especially in hot spots, know the importance of women in the armed forces.”
Although the Serbian armed forces were traditionally exclusively male (with exception of nurses and some other non-combat roles) there were some exceptions. Several women are known to have fought in the ranks in the Balkan Wars and the First World War, often by initially hiding their gender to work around the draft regulations. The most notable of them was Milunka Savić, the most decorated female combatant in history. In the Second World War Yugoslav partisan units accepted female volunteers as combatants as well as medical personnel. After the war the practice was abandoned, but was reintroduced recently with professionalisation of the army.
In the Military Articles of 1621, which organized the Swedish army, military men on all levels were explicitly allowed to bring their wives with them to war, as the wives were regarded to fill an important role as sutlers in the house hold organisation of the army: prostitutes, however, were banned. This regulation was kept until the Military Article of 1798, though the presence of women diminished after the end of the Great Northern War. In the Military Article of 1798, the only women allowed to accompany the army was the professional unmarried female sutlers, in Sweden named marketenterska. Unofficially, however, there were females who served in the army posing as male the entire period, the most famous being Ulrika Eleonora Stålhammar.
In 1924, the Swedish Women's Voluntary Defence Service (Swedish: Riksförbundet Sveriges lottakårer, commonly known as Lottorna) was founded: it is an auxiliary defense organization of the Swedish Home Guard, a part of the Swedish Armed Forces.
Since 1989 there are no gender restrictions in the Swedish military on access to military training or positions. They are allowed to serve in all parts of the military and in all positions, including combat. Female personnel currently make up around 13% of the Armed Forces.
When Turkish history is examined, it is apparent that Turkish women have voluntarily taken tasks in the defence of their country, showing the same power and courage as men. Nene Hatun, whose monument has been erected in the city of Erzurum (Eastern Turkey) because of her gallant bravery during the Ottoman-Russian War, constitutes a very good example of this fact. Besides providing nursery services, women also took main roles in combat in WWI. Furthermore, the Independence War has taken its place in history with the unsurpassed heroism of Turkish women. Sabiha Gökçen was the first female combat pilot in the world, as well as the first Turkish female aviator. She was one of the eight adoptive children of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Throughout her career in the Turkish Air Force, Gökçen flew 22 different types of aircraft for more than 8,000 hours, 32 hours of which were active combat and bombardment missions. She was selected as the only female pilot for the poster of "20 Greatest Aviators in History" published by the United States Air Force in 1996.
Women personnel are being employed as officers in the Turkish Armed Forces today. The women officers serve together with the men under the same respective chains of command. The personnel policy regarding women in the Turkish Armed Forces is based on the principle of "needing qualified women officers in suitable branches and ranks" to keep pace with technological advancements in the 21st century. Women civilian personnel have been assigned to the headquarters staff, technical fields, and social services without sexual discrimination. Women officers serve in all branches except armor, infantry, and submarines. Assignments, promotions and training are considered on an equal basis with no gender bias.
As of the year 2005, the number of the female officers and NCOs in the Turkish Armed Forces is 1245.
Women (on active duty) make almost 13% of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (18.000 persons); 7% of those are officers. This number is close to NATO armies statistics. Ukraine shows better results in military gender equality than countries like Norway (7%), United Kingdom (9%) or Sweden (5%). There are few female high officers, 2,9% (1.202 women). There are no females among Ukraine’s generals while there are a dozen female colonels. Contractual military service counts for almost 44% of women. However, this is closely linked to the low salary of such positions: men refuse to serve in these conditions when women accept them. In total about 25 percent of Ukraine’s 200,000 military personnel are women.
Women were first employed by the Royal Navy in 1696 when a handful were employed as nurses and laundresses on hospital ships. They received pay equal to an able seaman. The practice was always controversial and over the next two centuries first the nurses and the laundresses were removed from service. By the start of the 19th century both roles had been eliminated. Female service in the Royal Navy restarted 1884 when the Naval Nursing Service was formed. It became the Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service in 1902 and is still in operation. Women have had active roles in the British Army since 1902, when the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps was founded. The Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service was formed in 1918. During the Second World War, about 600,000 women served in the three British women's auxiliary services: the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, and the Women's Royal Naval Service, as well as the nursing corps.
Queen Boudica, who led warriors of the Iceni tribe against Roman forces occupying Britain around AD 62, is often cited[by whom?] in support of arguments calling for the full opening up of the British Armed forces to women.
In 1917, the Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps was formed; 47,000 women served until it was disbanded in 1921. The Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS) was formed in 1917 as well. Before it disbanded in 1919, it provided catering and administrative support, communications and electrician personnel.
In 1938, the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) was created, with 20,000 women serving in non-combat roles during the conflict as well as serving as military police and in combat roles as anti-aircraft gunners.
In 1949, women were officially recognized as a permanent part of British Armed forces, although full combat roles were still restricted to men. In this year, the Women's Royal Army Corps was created to replace the ATS and in 1950 the ranks were normalised with the ranks of men serving in the British Army.
The 1991 Gulf War marked the first deployment of British women in combat operations since 1945.
Women may now join the British Armed forces in all roles except those whose "primary duty is to close with and kill the enemy": Infantry, Household Cavalry, Royal Armoured Corps, Royal Marines Commandos, RAF Regiment, Special Air Service and Special Boat Service. Women were once excluded from service in the Royal Navy Submarine Service and as Royal Navy Clearance divers, but since their inclusion in the Navy in 1990, they have successfully served as clearance divers.
In December 2015, it was announced that women would be permitted to begin training in autumn 2016 in order to enter all roles by the end of that year. 
Female personnel currently make up around 9% of the British armed forces.
During the First World War, over 2,300 women served overseas in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. During the Second World War, 5,000 women of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps again served overseas, however they were not permitted to serve on combat warships or in combat teams. The Canadian Army Women's Corps was created during the Second World War, as was the Royal Canadian Air Force (Women's Division). As well, 45,000 women served as support staff in every theatre of the conflict, driving heavy equipment, rigging parachutes, and performing clerical work, telephone operation, laundry duties and cooking. Some 5,000 women performed similar occupations during Canada’s part in the Korean War of 1950–1953.
In 1965 the Canadian government decided to allow a maximum of 1,500 women to serve directly in all three branches of its armed forces, and the former "women's services" were disbanded. In 1970 the government created a set of rules for the armed forces designed to encourage equal opportunities. In 1974 the first woman, Major Wendy Clay, earned her pilot's wings in the newly integrated Canadian Forces.
Between 1979 and 1985 the role of women expanded further, with military colleges allowing women to enroll. In 1982 laws were passed ending all discrimination in employment, and combat related roles in the Canadian armed forces were opened for women, with the exception of the submarine service. In 1986 further laws were created to the same effect. The following years saw Canada’s first female infantry soldier, and a female Brigadier-General.
In 1989, a tribunal appointed under the Canadian Human Rights Act ordered full integration of women in the Canadian Armed Forces "with all due speed", at least within the next ten years. Only submarines were to remain closed to women. Women were permitted to serve on board Canadian submarines in 2002 with the acquisition of the Victoria-class submarine. Master Seaman Colleen Beattie became the first female submariner in 2003.
Canadian women have also commanded large infantry units and Canadian warships.
See also: Timeline of women in warfare in Colonial America
Timeline of women in warfare in the United States before 1900
Timeline of women in warfare in the United States from 1900 to 1949
Timeline of women in warfare in the United States from 1950 to 1999
Timeline of women in warfare in the United States since 2000
The first female American soldier was Deborah Sampson of Massachusetts. She enlisted as a Continental Army soldier under the name of "Robert Shurtliff". She served for three years in the Revolutionary War and was wounded twice; she cut a musket ball out of her own thigh so no doctor would find out she was a woman.
In the history of women in the military, there are records of female U.S. Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers who enlisted using male pseudonyms, but a letter written by Annie Oakley to President William McKinley on April 5, 1898 may represent the earliest documentary proof of a political move towards recognizing a woman's right to serve in the United States military. Oakley, sharpshooter and star in the Buffalo Bill Show, wrote a letter to President William McKinley on April 5, 1898 "offering the government the services of a company of 50 'lady sharpshooters' who would provide their own arms and ammunition should war break out with Spain." The Spanish–American War did occur, but Oakley's offer was not accepted.
During World War I, 21,498 U.S. Army nurses (military nurses were all women then) served in military hospitals in the United States and overseas. Eighteen African-American Army nurses served stateside caring for German prisoners of war (POWs) and African-American soldiers; after the Armistice, Nov. 11, 1918, they entered the Army Nurse Corps and cared for people. They were assigned to Camp Grant, IL, and Camp Sherman, OH, and lived in segregated quarters while caring for German POWs and black soldiers. African-American women also served in World War I as U.S. Yeomen (F). Of the 11,274 U.S. Yeomen (F) who served from 1917–1921, 14 were black. The first American women enlisted into the regular armed forces were 13,000 women admitted into active duty in the Navy and Marines during World War I, and a much smaller number admitted into the Coast Guard. The Yeoman (F) recruits and women Marines primarily served in clerical positions. They received the same benefits and responsibilities as men, including identical pay (US$28.75 per month), and were treated as veterans after the war. The U.S. Army recruited and trained 233 female bilingual telephone operators to work at switchboards near the front in France and sent 50 skilled female stenographers to France to work with the Quartermaster Corps. The U.S. Navy enlisted 11,880 women as Yeomen (F) to serve stateside in shore billets and release sailors for sea duty. More than 1,476 U.S. Navy nurses served in military hospitals stateside and overseas. The U.S. Marine Corps enlisted 305 female Marine Reservists (F) to "free men to fight" by filling positions such as clerks and telephone operators on the home front. More than 400 U.S. military nurses died in the line of duty during World War I. The vast majority of these women died from a highly contagious form of influenza known as the "Spanish Flu," which swept through crowded military camps and hospitals and ports of embarkation. Women were quickly demobilized when hostilities ceased, and aside from the Nurse Corps the soldiery became once again exclusively male.
The Woman’s Army Auxiliary Corps, the women's branch of the United States Army, was established in the United States on 15 May 1942 by Public Law 554, and converted to full status as the WAC on 1 July 1943. The Woman’s Naval Reserve was also created during World War II. In 1944 women from the Women's Army Corps (WACs) arrived in the Pacific and landed in Normandy on D-Day. During the war, 67 Army nurses and 16 Navy nurses were captured and spent three years as Japanese prisoners of war. There were 350,000 American women who served during World War II and 16 were killed in action; in total, they gained over 1,500 medals, citations, and commendations.
Virginia Hall, serving with the Office of Strategic Services, received the second-highest US combat award, the Distinguished Service Cross, for action behind enemy lines in France. Hall, who had one artificial leg, landed clandestinely in occupied territory aboard a British Motor Torpedo Boat.
Law 625, The Women's Armed Services Act of 1948, was signed by President Truman, allowing women to serve in the armed forces in fully integrated units during peacetime, with only the WAC remaining a separate female unit. The WAC as a branch was disbanded in 1978. Women serving as WACs at that time converted in branch to whichever Military Occupational Specialty they worked in.
U.S. servicewomen who had joined the Reserves following World War II were involuntarily recalled to active duty during the Korean War. More than 500 Army nurses served in the combat zone and many more were assigned to large hospitals in Japan during the war. One Army nurse (Major Genevieve Smith) died in a plane crash en route to Korea on July 27, 1950, shortly after hostilities begin. Navy nurses served on hospital ships in the Korean theater of war as well as at Navy hospitals stateside. Eleven Navy nurses died en route to Korea when their plane crashed in the Marshall Islands. Air Force nurses served stateside, in Japan, and as flight nurses in the Korean theater during the conflict. Three Air Force nurses were killed in plane crashes while on duty. Many other servicewomen were assigned to duty in the theater of operations in Japan and Okinawa.
Records regarding American women serving in the Vietnam War are vague. However, it is recorded that 600 women served in the country as part of the Air Force, along with 500 members of the WAC, and over 6,000 medical personnel and support staff.
In 1974, the first six women aviators earned their wings as Navy pilots. The Congressionally mandated prohibition on women in combat places limitations on the pilots' advancement, but at least two retired as captains.
In 1976 the United States Air Force Academy, United States Coast Guard Academy, United States Military Academy and the United States Naval Academy became coeducational. The United States Air Force then eliminated the Women in the Air Force program; with women more fully integrated with men in the service it was considered unnecessary.
On December 20, 1989, Captain Linda L. Bray, 29, became the first woman to command American soldiers in battle, during the invasion of Panama. She was assigned to lead a force of 30 men and women military police officers to capture a kennel holding guard dogs that was defended by elements of the Panamanian Defense Forces.
The 1991 Persian Gulf War proved to be the pivotal time for the role of women in the United States Armed Forces to come to the attention of the world media. Over 40,000 women served in almost every role the armed forces had to offer. However, while many came under fire, they were not permitted to participate in deliberate ground engagements. Despite this, there are many reports of women engaging enemy forces during the conflict.
The case United States v. Virginia, in which the Supreme Court ordered that the Virginia Military Institute allow women to register as cadets, gave women soldiers a weapon against laws which (quoting Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg) “[deny] to women, simply because they are women, full citizenship stature—equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, participate in and contribute to society”.
During the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War, more than two hundred thousand women served, of which 152 were killed; of those 84 were killed by enemy action. During the Iraq War, U.S. Army reservists Lynndie England, Megan Ambuhl, and Sabrina Harman were convicted by court martial of cruelty and maltreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. During the Afghanistan War, American soldier Monica Lin Brown, was presented the Silver Star for shielding wounded soldiers with her body, and then treating life-threatening injuries.
The Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 directed the Department of Defense (DoD) to review the laws, policies and regulations restricting the service of female service members. As a result, DoD submitted the Review of Laws, Policies and Regulations Restricting the Service of Female members in the U.S. Armed Forces, popularly known as the "Women in Service Review", to Congress in February 2012. According to the review, DoD intended to eliminate co-location exclusion (opening over 13,000 Army positions to women); grant exceptions to policy to assign women in open occupations to direct ground combat units at the battalion level; assess the suitability and relevance of direct ground combat unit assignment prohibition to inform future policy based on the results of these exceptions to policy; and further develop gender-neutral physical standards for closed specialties.
As of 2010, the majority of women in the U.S. army served in administrative roles.
The Argentine Army first authorized women in their ranks in 1997, the Air Force in 2001 and the Argentine Navy in 2002. Since then, they were deployed in peacekeeping missions to Cyprus and Haiti.
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