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UK Government commits to recruiting more women to the armed forces but leaves rape and sexual abuse cases in the hands of military courts.

Alexander Baxevanis
December 8, 2021

Responding to the recent Defence Committee report “Protecting those who protect us” Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace MP, said the Government is committed to recruiting more women into the Armed Forces. Currently women make up only 11% of the Services.   Having already missed the target of 15% by 2020, he said the “ambition” now was for women to comprise 30% of Armed Forces personnel by 2030.  

Whether this new target will be achieved will depend on how the Armed Forces can be made a more attractive career for women, with the need to focus on retention as well as recruitment.  20% of women veterans included in the survey underpinning the report said they had resigned from the Forces because of the impact on their family and personal life.  This had led senior officers to introduce more flexible working and better child care, as well as opening up to women a wider range of roles within the Services.[i]

However, the Government has not given any commitment yet as to how it will improve services for women when they leave the Services.  75% of women veterans surveyed said the MOD had not been helpful in their transition to civilian life, and more than half said their needs were not being met by current veteran services.[ii]  

The Defence Secretary went on to announce that complaints of a sexual nature will in future be dealt with outside of the direct chain of command, with the establishment of a new and independent complaints service.[iii]  Six out of ten women who reported having experienced bullying, harassment and discrimination had not complained either because they thought nothing would be done or because they feared it would damage their career[iv].  

Sarah Atherton, MP, who chaired the sub-Committee which commissioned the report, said that while removing sexual complaints from the chain of command would “make a real difference to the lives of servicewomen” she was disappointed the MOD had “refused to remove cases of rape from the Court Martial jurisdiction (into the civilian courts system) despite clear evidence that the current system is failing to deliver justice.”[v]  This was a key recommendation in the report as a result of the finding that conviction rates for rape in military courts are up to six times lower than those in civilian courts.[vi]

“There is much more work to do,” said Atherton, “We will continue to advocate for military women and will closely monitor the progress on the commitments made in this response.”[vii]


[i] Ministry of Defence aims to double women recruits in military by 2030 - BBC News

[ii] Women in the Armed Forces: From Recruitment to Civilian Life (parliament.uk)

[iii] MP's inquiry outcome sees "improving the experiences of women in the Armed Forces is becoming a priority for the Ministry of Defence" - Wrexham.com

[iv] Ministry of Defence aims to double women recruits in military by 2030 - BBC News

[v] MP's inquiry outcome sees "improving the experiences of women in the Armed Forces is becoming a priority for the Ministry of Defence" - Wrexham.com

[vi] Ministry of Defence aims to double women recruits in military by 2030 - BBC News

[vii] MP's inquiry outcome sees "improving the experiences of women in the Armed Forces is becoming a priority for the Ministry of Defence" - Wrexham.com

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