CBC In Depth
Women in the military — international
CBC News Online | May 30, 2006

Women have been serving in the army since the 1700s, but it wasn't until the late 1940s that they started to receive official recognition and compensation as fully-fledged members of the armed forces.

Most countries include women in their military, though their roles are largely confined to medical, administrative or logistical fields. There is a general disinclination to placing women in combat roles even in countries that make it mandatory for women to serve in the military alongside the men.

China, Eritrea, Israel, Libya, Malaysia, North Korea, Peru and Taiwan draft women into the army. In 2002, Sweden also considered female conscription on the grounds that excluding them goes against the ideology of equality.

Year of legal admittance of female soldiers
USA 1948
UK 1949
Canada 1951
Germany 1975
Norway 1977
Netherlands 1979
Spain 1988
Source: NATO
Other countries that do not normally draft women into the armed forces have done so during emergencies. For example, during the Second World War, both Britain and the former Soviet Union conscripted women. The United States was on the verge of drafting women into the Nurse Corp because it anticipated it would need the extra personnel for its planned invasion of Japan. However the Japanese surrendered and the idea was abandoned.

Countries that draft (conscript) women into the armed forces

North Korea

United States of America

More than 12,000 women enlisted in the United States Navy and Marine Corps during the First World War. About 400 of them died in that war.

In the World War Two era, approximately 400,000 U.S. women served with the armed forces and more than 460 — some sources say the figure is closer to 543 — lost their lives as a result of the war, including 16 from enemy fire.

Women became officially recognized as a permanent part of the armed forces with the passing of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act of 1948.

  U.S. U.K.
How many women do they have in their armed forces? 362,000

(Active duty, National Guard and Reserves)

officers -3,670

other ranks - 14,230
Proportion of women in the armed forces? 15% active duty force

Almost 25% of reserves

Officers - 11.2%

Other ranks -8.7%
Women have access to what percentage of military jobs? 95% Royal Navy 71%

Army 67%

RAF 96%
Source: Women's Memorial/Department of Defence (US); Ministry of Defence (UK)

A sharp increase in the rate of females enlisting came during the Vietnam War; fewer men were willing to serve so women were actively recruited. The figures have remained comparatively high ever since.

Over 7,000 female U.S. soldiers served in Vietnam; eight of them died in the line of duty.

Approximately 41,000 women were deployed for the first U.S. war in Iraq; 16 female soldiers died and two were captured as prisoners of war.

According to non-government sources, seven female military staff died in Afghanistan and at least 51 died during the second war in Iraq.

To date, the U.S. has almost two million female veterans and it has the largest concentration of female soldiers who voluntarily enlist and are currently on active duty.

U.S. female military personnel serve in most areas of the armed forces but are not allowed on submarines and are "precluded from units that engage the enemy on the ground with weapons or that are exposed to hostile fire and have a high possibility of direct physical contact with the enemy."

The U.S. also has the highest number of female soldiers in senior ranks, with at least four females with the three-star equivalent rank of lieutenant-general or vice-admiral.

Army (Percentage of female personnel)
Combat (all of these women serve in the Army Air Corps) 1%
Combat Support 21.9%
Combat Service Support 77.1%
Source: Ministry of Defence (UK)

Percentage of Women By Service
ServiceTotal Officers Other Ranks
Naval Service 9.3% 8.7% 9.4%
Army8.2% 10.8% 7.1%
Royal Air Force12.3% 13.6% 11.9%
Source: Ministry of Defence (UK)

United Kingdom

Women in the British Armed Forces are welcome in all roles except those where the "primary duty is to close with and kill the enemy." They are not allowed to drive tanks, serve in the front-line infantry, on submarines or as mine-clearance divers.

The current policy means female soldiers cannot be part of the infantry, Royal Armoured Corps, Royal Marines or the RAF Regiment.

The UK has female military staff in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans. The ADC to a two-star general currently deployed in Afghanistan is female.


Women in Israel between the ages of 15 and 49 are automatically conscripted into the military, just like the men. Each recruit goes through basic training followed by a period of active service, after which they are required to serve up to one month a year in reserve duty. However, a significant proportion of the women are exempt for religious, marital or pregnancy reasons.

Eighty-three per cent of all positions in the Israeli Defence Force are open to women. Combat roles are voluntary for female personnel; however, women are not allowed to serve on submarines.

About a third of lower rank officers are women and approximately one-fifth of the middle ranking officers are women. Women account for less than five per cent of the senior ranks.


Countries that allow female soldiers on submarines

Norway (1995)
Australia (1998)
Canada (2000)
Women have been allowed into almost all operational functions of Norway's Armed Forces since 1985. The exceptions are the para-rangers and marine commandos. So far, no woman has met the entry requirements.

Norway recently considered the introduction of compulsory military service for women. It is the first country to assign female personnel to submarines.

Women make up less than five per cent of Norway's military staff. Few Norwegian servicewomen have advanced to senior ranks.


RELATED: Women in the Canadian military Canadian military

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International Military Staff � Percentage of Female Soldiers (2005)

Percentage of military service women in the armed forces of NATO countries and year of admittance
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