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Women in combat roles, what does this mean for the military?

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A long-fought battle will finally put women on the front lines. Now that people have had a day to digest that news, veterans and scholars are reflecting on what this means for the military and how war is fought. As our Katie Gibas reports, this is far from the final step in creating full gender equality in the military.

UNITED STATES -- A long-fought battle will finally put women on the front lines. Now that people have had a day to digest that news, veterans and scholars are reflecting on what this means for the military and how war is fought. As our Katie Gibas reports, this is far from the final step in creating full gender equality in the military.

The role of women in the military has been constantly evolving. From having to pretend to be a man to fight in the Civil War, to serving as nurses during the world wars and still serving in mostly support roles.

"I think most women perceive that we've been underestimated that people construe us as not being able to do things that we are actually capable of doing," said Danique Masingill, a Navy Veteran.

Now for the first time, women will be allowed to fight on the front lines.
Something many say is long over-due.

"How many women have to die in a combat zone before we think of women as being in combat," said Francine D'Amico, PhD, Maxwell School International Relations Professor.

About 150 women have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"What we're fighting for and what this country is so proud to defend, part of that is equality, so the people volunteering in this force to fight for that, deserve the same equal rights," said Masingill.

In many cases, women are already working in combat zones.

The men soldiers can't talk to civilian women in Afghanistan and Iraq, so you have to have women in the field. Initially a lot of the Afghan women were surprised to realize that the soldiers were women. But once the women saw that and got used to it, they were more willing to open up," said D'Amico.

Lifting the ban on women in combat roles is obviously a big step towards equality, but those we spoke with say there's still a long way to go.

"They're still not very present in the decision making hierarchy of how the military is used. So there's still more to do there, and there's still minds to change about what women are capable of what what they aren't capable of," said D'Amico.

The move also has structural implications, including making sure there are facilities on site for women, proper medical care and the necessary resources when they return.

"The important component of this is what is it going to mean for women as they transition out of the military and into civilian life. Will it have any impact on their health care, their employment prospects, their families and in their post-service life course," said James Schmeling, the Managing Director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

This new policy doesn't just mean more equality in roles, it means better equality in wages, compensation and career advancement.

For more information on the history of women in the military and policies affecting gender roles, you can check out these books:
Gender Camouflage: Women and the US Military
Wives and Warriors
War and Gender

We've also included a history of women in the military below.

History of Military Women

Katie 2 by Leigh Edwards

Legal and Policy Changes

Katie 1 by Leigh Edwards

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