A Cultural Sea Change

female soldier salutingI love when my friends who are not in this work ask me interesting questions about prevention.  It’s nice to know that my long and heartfelt speeches don't always go in one ear and out the other.  Case in point:  yesterday a friend asked me this question:

“So what is your position on this new policy of women in combat positions? Do you think this will increase the sexual assault issues that the military already has?”

This question really got me thinking.  Since watching The Invisible War documentary, I’ve been doing a lot of pondering about the issue of sexual violence in the military, what prevention in those settings would look like, and the change that is needed to break down current barriers to true prevention work. My response to my friend was that, in my opinion, allowing women in combat positions is absolutely the right decision.  Will women be put on the spot?  Yes, but is that any different from how it is now?  The individuals committing the rape and sexual harassment don't need an excuse to do what they do.  If this decision to allow women in combat opens up more leadership opportunities for women in the military isn’t that a  good thing for everyone, not just women? 

I did some searching online last night and came across an article from Forbes that I think does a good job of exploring the issue.  The title poses the question, Will Allowing Women In Combat Roles Revolutionize Military Leadership?  I especially like the words of Greg Jacob, policy director at the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN).  “This puts women at every level of the military.  It ensures you have the best person in leadership positions regardless of their sex.”   The article goes on to describe concerns from those who are opposed to the policy.  In response to a concern that “women in combat units may negatively change the dynamics, creating conditions of sexual competition and sexual harassment,” Jacobs makes it clear that the opposite is likely to happen:

“On the contrary, bringing women into the fold as complete members of the team will break down the perception that they are weaker and will reduce sexual assault and harassment.  In the long-term you’ll have more women advance to higher levels, making policy decisions that will cause a cultural sea change.”

A cultural sea change.  I love that description.  Let’s keep those waves rolling all the way to the next shore.  Perhaps gender equality (for instance, equality in pay)?  Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but change is happening and I’m so glad to be part of it.