Only 6% of Defence Forces are women

Women account for just 6% of the country’s defence forces and hold none of the top positions in army, naval service or air corps, figures from the Department of Justice show.

Of the 9,000 people in the Defence Forces, only 562 or 6.15% are women. That compares to 10% of the forces in Britain and 14.5% in the US.

The 562 women here include 467 in the army, 28 in the air corps, and 67 in the naval service.

The highest rank held by a woman in the army as of May 31 was lieutenant colonel, of which there are two. Above that rank there are four more which are all held by men.

In the air corps, the highest rank held by a woman is captain, of which there are two. There are six ranks above captain in the corps.

Finally, in the naval service, the highest rank held by a woman is commandant, of which there are six. The five higher ranks are all held by men.

One area where the defence forces here are more progressive in terms of their female staff than military in other nations is through access to the frontline.

Last year four US service women, including two who won purple hearts in Afghanistan, sued the Pentagon over its policy barring women from ground combat. They said that in practice women had actually been serving in combat roles for years but the official military policy still banned them, meaning they could not be promoted as they were not receiving official combat experience.

When women first joined the army here in 1980, policy dictated that they could only serve in non-combatant roles. However, the non-combatant policy for females serving in the Defence Forces was withdrawn in 1992 and full participation in all aspects of military activity was enabled.

In releasing the latest figures on female personnel, Justice Minister Alan Shatter said the Government was “committed to a policy of equal opportunity for men and women throughout the defence forces and to the full participation by women in all aspects of Defence Forces activities”.

“Unlike many other national armed forces, the Defence Forces have no restrictions as regards the assignment of men or women to the full range of operational and administrative duties. All promotions and career courses are open to both genders on merit.”

Earlier this week, the courts heard an allegation of sexual assault made by a female naval service crew member against one of her crew mates.

The accused was cleared, with the judge saying there was a doubt as to the sexual nature of the assault. However, the case shed light on how gender could cause issues in the military.

During the hearing the complainant told the court that making a complaint of that nature in the military was frowned upon: “Your crew look at you differently. They isolate you — it’s not an easy place to be. It can be very daunting.

“You are also seen as a traitor for ‘rocking the boat’ and going against the lads — it’s all about the boys.”


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