A survey of over 2,500 servicewomen has found that sexual harassment and sexist attitudes are rife among the armed forces:
Between 2005 and 2007, servicewomen reported a rise in six out of nine types of inappropriate sexual behaviour, ranging from comments about their sex lives to obscene gestures. Nearly a quarter of those surveyed were sent explicit material such as pornography, according to the previously unpublished survey for the MoD. Other incidents included peepholes being cut in the walls of women’s showers and a servicewoman being told by a senior officer that ‘I should sleep with him because he is a higher rank’.
Another was humiliated at an official function in the officers’ mess, when a card was sent to the top table suggesting she was ‘available for sexual favours’.
In response, the Equality and Human Rights Commission will be launching a joint venture with the MoD to tackle these issues. However, ensuring that women are able to do their job without harassment is apparently “controversial”:
…some senior officers argue privately that operational effectiveness could be jeopardised by imposing civilian attitudes on army life and that traditions such as soldiers decorating their lockers with pornographic pin-ups should be left alone.
Liam Fox, the shadow Defence Secretary, said that while the armed forces should meet their duty of care to all troops, they should not apply ‘a degree of political correctness which might be excessive’ to the military.
Note how the issue of serious, institutionalised discrimination is reduced to supposed whining about a couple of nudie posters and the oh-so-detested political correctness. No surprise, really, considering that attitudes within the armed forces simply reflect those of wider society:
One in five servicemen still did not think that telling a junior woman she would get a promotion if she slept with them was harassment; asked why they thought harassment cases happened, 46 per cent of the men said it was because women ‘over-reacted’.
Not dissimilar from the reactions we get when we complain about street harassment.
Of course, working in the armed forces is tough. Really tough. But no one’s asking for women to be exempt from the mental and physical challenges all servicemen have to face, simply that they should not suffer extra difficulty while trying to get on in their careers due to sexist discrimination. These women, like Corporal Sarah Bryant, are prepared to risk their lives to do the job they have chosen. So if they come forward and say there’s a problem here, it must undoubtedly amount to a hell of a lot more than the occasional flash of pin-up titties when the boys open their lockers.
According to the EHRC Chair,
‘The MoD now has a very good system for when things go wrong. Now we need to make sure those things go wrong much less frequently. There has been positive change but they want to do more and we are going to help them achieve that.
…We ask our brave service personnel to put their lives on the line, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion. For soldiers who are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, the very least we can do is make sure they are treated fairly and with respect by their own colleagues.’
Nice words, here’s hoping for some action.