OPINION: Once again the Western World is witness to a decision by the United States that we in New Zealand can proudly say we thought of and actioned years ahead of them.
According to a senior Pentagon official, United States Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has removed the military's ban on women serving on the front line. The move could open more than 230,000 roles, with women making up about 14 per cent of the 1.4 million active US military personnel.
Here in God's Own, women in the Defence Force have been employed on the same basis as servicemen since 1977. This allowed them to receive equal pay for equal work. However, in 2000, the NZDF went a step further and rescinded its policy of not permitting women to serve in combat positions.
Then, although already happening in practice, in 2007 Parliament unanimously passed the Human Rights (Women in Armed Forces) Amendment Act, which removed a provision allowing the armed forces to restrict women's involvement in combat and other frontline roles. New Zealand should be intensely proud of this move, which brought us in line with just a handful of countries. Even our trans-Tasman neighbours only made the decision to allow female diggers to join their male counterparts in battle in 2011.
Arguments about whether women have the physical strength to serve on the front line are void. Provided women can pass the tests placed before them, physical and mental, there is no reasoning behind preventing a woman from striving to attain any role within the military.
Fears that women might fall pregnant to avoid deployment are no more warranted than a man who might fail a fitness test to avoid the same fate.
Where there are concerns that the male enemy might not be intimidated enough by a woman soldier, they are placated in the knowledge that women and children too can be enemies - and are more likely to connect with female soldiers.
Kiwis should be proud of the role women have played in serving our country overseas. While the death of Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Bamiyan last year, served as a timely reminder of the risk women put themselves under, they do so with full knowledge. As her grandmother said at Ms Baker's funeral: "She was living proof that girls can do anything."
● This editorial also appeared in the Manawatu Standard.
One more thing:
New Plymouth district councillor Sherril George makes a dramatic intervention on high-level management resignations after many months of relative silence; Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull performs an about-face on local-body debt.
It might be mere coincidence but local body elections are just a handful of months away.
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