The role of women in the military has always been a controversial issue as for most people the battlefield still remains the domain of men. Women are generally considered not to be as physically strong or emotionally aggressive as men to cope with the brutalities of war. However, technological progress has changed the nature of warfare and opened up more army jobs for women. Moreover, the aim of democratic societies to ensure equal opportunities for men and women has intensified the debate about women's access to all combat positions.
Although history is rife with examples of female heroic deeds in battle, evidence shows that until the late 20th century women entered the war theatre as combatants only in extraordinary circumstances, such as fighting against foreign occupation or participating in liberation and resistance movements. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom and the former Soviet Union even introduced conscription for female soldiers during World War II (1939-45). When the conflicts subsided, however, women returned to their previous role of mothers and care givers while men continued to be the protectors of the home. Although attitudes after World War II changed greatly as women made up a considerable part of the workforce and men increased their participation in household and child rearing jobs, gender prejudices prevented women from taking up occupations in fields reserved exclusively for men, such as the army, the police, construction and firefighting.
The post-war situation, however, gradually changed and women were admitted to active duty in the armed forces but their roles at first were limited to functions in medical, administrative or logistics support units. In recent decades women in most countries are recognized, paid and trained as fully fledged members of the military. They have risen in rank and gained access to areas that are not traditionally feminine. The increasing role of women in the military can be explained with the demand for qualified personnel after more and more countries are suspending conscription and moving to an all-volunteer model. Technological progress, the development of sophisticated arms systems and management organization require an increase in the number of support personnel in the armed forces. As women continue to be occupied chiefly in support functions, female recruitment is seen on the rise. The shortage of skilled male personnel to fill these technically demanding positions has made the army more and more reliant on women who are on average better educated &han men<&/font>.
The re-organizations of the armed forces in various countries have been carried out at different scales, rhythms and with local peculiarities. Women's access to combat military positions, admittance to military academ&es and pr&motion to the top ranks are very uneven, and women are rarely part of the decisionmaking processes on military or defense issues.
Society is still unsettled about allowing women to participate in combat troops. Even in Israel, the only country where military service is mandatory for females, some combat positions are still closed for women. A number of countries accept females for almost all combat jobs, provided they meet the physical and psychological requirements. Others, like the United States and Britain, admit women to the air force and submarines but exclude them from the front lines of ground fighting.
Opponents of putting women in combat voice concerns that they lack the necessary strength to carry munitions and the stamina to endure the atrocities of war.They also argue that the inclusion of women in the infantry and other combat male units might lead to dating, sexual harassment, conflicts and double standards, which will harm cohesion and spoil morale. Another issue is readiness of troops for deployment in adverse conditions, which can be affected by pregnancies when the unit is understaffed or prevalently female.
Supporters of equal rights for women say that excluding women from ground combat deprives them from access to positions which lead to advancement. Since women have to compete with men for the few command assignments available, the barriers lead to frustrations that make them leave the army. Experienced army professionals argue that women in support units are exposed to the same risks and dangers as in combat service, but they do not get combat pay and the related opportunities for promotion.
Women's advocates also cite surveys which give evidence that the integration of women has had relatively small impact on readiness, cohesion and morale. Moreover, male officers have asserted that women can perform about as well as men do and their presence can have some positive effects on their male peers, such as raising the level of professional standards.