Women’s History Month: Encouraging More Women to Answer the Call of Service
By Chris Meek
Women’s History Month provides an opportunity to reflect on the vast and varied achievements and contributions of American women throughout history, particularly military history where women warriors have played crucial roles in carrying out military operations dating back to the Revolutionary War.
Lifting up the stories and experiences of the fearless women who have and continue to serve our country throughout the month provides a platform to encourage more women to ultimately serve.
Discussion and education surrounding women’s history, and in particular women’s military history and issues, should not remain in a vacuum amongst women. In order for there to be broader understanding and continued progress in maximizing the efforts and experiences of women warriors by military institutions and the general public, all Americans must actively seek out, listen to others and participate in those discussions.
Today the United States military counts the highest number of women among its ranks in its history. Though this is a testament to the progress that military institutions have made in previous decades, and in particular the last few years, when put into perspective women make up only 16-percent of the total force.
So how can we encourage more women to answer the call of service? And what role can both women and men alike play in fostering an environment in which females feel empowered to serve?
1. We must better identify barriers that have the potential to prevent women from joining the military and subsequently develop and implement effective measures to reduce the impact of such barriers. For example, many women have signaled that the difficulty of having a family while in service has discouraged them from enlisting. In response, offering and highlighting more resources that are family-centric may deter women from walking away from service.
For instance, this month a group of bipartisan congressional lawmakers called for changes and an expansion to a law that allows for female veterans with service-connected injuries that have left them infertile greater access to life-changing fertility options and the removal of barriers to obtaining these benefits. Though this piece of legislation is geared towards female veterans and not active duty servicewomen, positive military-related, family-oriented legislation such as this may remain encouraging to females considering service and also has the ability to better highlight family-friendly elements of military service and services carried out by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
2. Beginning at a young age, women should be encouraged to serve. According to a 2017 military study, only 11-percent of young individuals indicate a strong interest in joining the military. We must foster an environment where more young girls and boys alike see military service as a viable option for their future and have greater access to educational resources and materials that could ultimately help them someday make the decision to serve. Parents, teachers, policy makers, the media and other key players should actively and ardently support and encourage young girls who express interest in service.
Another important piece of encouraging service for those who express interest at a young age is preparing children, particularly teenagers, for service expectations and requirements. This includes placing a value on health and fitness from a young age so that children are prepared to someday meet military fitness standards, as well as placing an emphasis on completing high school or receiving a GED in order to meet military education standards.
3. There are far too few portrayals of women warriors and their specific experiences in Hollywood media. In a society where citizens often use movies and television shows as a way to connect with and find inspiration in the different lived experiences of others, it’s damaging that the media rarely offers opportunities for individuals, especially young girls, to connect with and learn more about women who serve. If the industry continually creates products that largely pretend that women warriors don’t exist, it will not only miss out on the opportunity to promote positive aspects of female service and highlight the tremendous military contributions of women but cheat young girls out of opportunities to feel inspired and empowered to serve.
As a society we must collectively amplify the voices and experiences of female service members by ensuring that there are platforms for women to share their stories and encouraging others to seek them out. Along with ensuring space for this dialogue, it’s important that we are actively listening to the voices of women warriors and using what they share to maximize their service experience and ultimately continue to benefit all Americans for decades to come.
This Women’s History Month, I implore all Americans to contribute to a society where women feel inspired to serve more than ever before. Thank you to all women warriors for your service, your tenacity and valor is an example for all.