Chairman’s Corner: Too Many Doors Still Closed to Women

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2010 — Yes­ter­day I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to address a con­fer­ence on “Women and War,” host­ed by the Unit­ed States Insti­tute of Peace. My main mes­sage was this: no mat­ter how many doors we have opened for women in the mil­i­tary — and there have been many — there are still too many oth­ers yet closed.

We sim­ply must do a bet­ter job tap­ping into their unique tal­ents and under­stand­ing their unique challenges. 

Today, women are ris­ing through our ranks and expand­ing their influ­ence at an ever-increas­ing rate, serv­ing mag­nif­i­cent­ly all over the world in all sorts of ways. More crit­i­cal­ly, in these wars of ours, they’ve served and sac­ri­ficed and led every bit as much and every bit as capa­bly as any man out there. Well over 200,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, demon­strat­ing tremen­dous resilience, adapt­abil­i­ty and capac­i­ty for innovation. 

Indeed, they have giv­en us a com­pet­i­tive advantage. 

Five years ago, when the ene­my was using Iraqi women to sub­vert our secu­ri­ty check­points, female Marines start­ed some­thing called the “Lioness” pro­gram to counter this threat and then con­duct broad­er out­reach to the women of Iraq. 

In Afghanistan today, female Marines are pro­vid­ing hope and promise through female engage­ment teams in the Tal­iban strong­holds in that coun­try. These brave women have in many places been able to oper­ate where male troops often can­not go. One Afghan elder who opened his home so female Marines could vis­it with his wife told Wash­ing­ton Post reporter Tom Ricks, “Your men come to fight, but we know the women are here to help.” 

Now, I would tell you that ALL of our deployed troops, men and women alike, are there to fight for and to help the local pop­u­la­tion. But these women have been able to build spe­cial rela­tion­ships and trust with Afghan women, to see things through their eyes and gain valu­able insight that we would not have gained otherwise. 

Time and again, mil­i­tary women show us that courage and lead­er­ship rec­og­nize no gen­der. In a war where there is no longer a clear delin­eation between front­lines and side­lines, where the war can come at you from any direc­tion, I think it’s impor­tant for all of us to remem­ber that this will be the first gen­er­a­tion of vet­er­ans where large num­bers of women return­ing will have been exposed to some form of combat. 

I know what the law says, and I know what it requires. But I’d be hard pressed to say that any woman who serves in Afghanistan today or who’s served in Iraq over the last few years did so with­out fac­ing the same risks to live and limb that their male coun­ter­parts faced. Mil­i­tary women are com­ing home to Dover too. 

And just like the men, those that make it home do so with wounds vis­i­ble and invis­i­ble, with sim­i­lar con­se­quences for our health-care sys­tem, our nation­al employ­ment rate and even home­less­ness. Along with oth­er issues, finan­cial hard­ships are dri­ving vet­er­an home­less­ness to a rate faster than expe­ri­enced by the Viet­nam gen­er­a­tion. Experts say that more than 100,000 vet­er­ans are home­less on any giv­en night and almost 4,000 are from today’s gen­er­a­tion and 10 per­cent of those seek­ing help for home­less­ness are women. Many of these women have young chil­dren who have already been through so much. 

This is some­thing that deeply trou­bles me, because the resources for these women haven’t caught up with those for male vet­er­ans. And they have unique chal­lenges that the sys­tem just does not under­stand yet.

There are, indeed, many doors yet to open. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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Team GlobDef

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