One of the final frontiers of women’s inequality may fall, if the Feb. 2 recommendation from top uniformed commanders in the Army and Marine Corps is taken by Congress.
Women, both citizens and immigrants, who reach the age of 18 would be required to register with the Selective Service System.
In the wake of Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s decision to open all military jobs, including combat and elite special operations units, to women, the reasons for limiting conscription to men no longer apply.
This is an important and needed change in the Military Selective Service Act.
Women are equal citizens and should bear the same responsibilities and risks of citizenship.
Paternalistic, protective attitudes toward women, long reasons for prohibiting their equality, have also long been obsolete.
According to Army leaders, more than 9,000 women have already earned the Combat Action Badge in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 1,000 women have been killed or wounded in that fighting.
Now that all military jobs, including infantry and special operations assignments, are open to women, the Selective Service law as it is written discriminates against men, placing all the burden of national defense on them.
If standards for service are gender-neutral, there is no reason to exclude women, and military officials confirm their commitment not to adjust standards.
In World War II, a fourth of all men who were drafted or volunteered were rejected for service as physically unfit. Many were malnourished because they grew up in the wake of the Great Depression.
If a draft becomes necessary, both men and women would still have to qualify to serve.
Most jobs in the military do not require extraordinary physical size, endurance or strength, but as three women proved last year in qualifying to be Army Rangers, some women have those traits.
Otherwise, intelligence, dexterity, leadership ability, sound judgment, people skills, good reflexes, acute senses, physical stamina, confidence and a team spirit are important, and many women possess them.
If the nation is ever in the situation of having to re-institute a draft, we will need the best-qualified people to do many jobs, and that means many women.
Military sexual trauma is not just a women’s problem. Saying it will be worse if there are women in large numbers in the military is a distraction.
Over half of victims are men, and it is a violation of the military code of ethics and breaks unit cohesion. Women are three times more likely to be assaulted, but military sexual trauma must be addressed even if there were no women serving.
For these and many other reasons, we should all support this important change.
It is a sign that we have begun to enter the 21st century in gender equality — not a minute too soon.
Rev. Rita Nakashima Brock, Ph.D., is a professor at Brite Divinity School at TCU.