Combat Restriction Lifted For Women In U.S. Military: Hidden Challenges & Latinas’ Role

By Victoria Cepeda

As the ban on women to serve in combat is lifted, and we are asked whether we agree or not with the Department of Defense’s decision and even servicewomen are torn on their stance on the issue,  here is data  that you may find interesting as well as troubling.

  • From 1973 to 2010 the number of active-duty enlisted women in the military has grown from about 42,000 to 167,000. Currently, the number is calculated to be 214,000. Conversely, over that same period, the enlisted force as a whole has seen a decrease of about 738,000 service members.
  • 12.2 % of women enlisted in the U.S. Military are Hispanic/Latinas with 11% of  them in active service.
  • Among living veterans from any era, only 15% of women served in combat.
  • Since the 1990s, changes in military policies and a decade-long conflict have contributed to an increase in combat exposure among women, from 7% among pre-1990 female veterans to 24% of post-1990 female veterans.


Photo courtesy of CNN in America Blog 

Unfortunately, a female soldier’s vulnerabilities are many. Becoming a casualty of war,  injured or taken hostage are inevitable risks while in combat  but becoming a victim of sexual assault and rape  at the hands of their own male counterparts should not be one of them. In addition, it highlights the challenges that the U.S. Military still faces when it comes to granting women equal opportunities.

As per the Pentagon’s 2011 Military Sexual Assault Report, in “FY2010, there were 3,158 total reports of sexual assault in the military.  The DOD estimates that this number only represents 13.5% of total assaults in 2010, making the total number of military rapes and sexual assaults in excess of 19,000 for FY 2010 of these only 529 went to trial.”  Since there is fear of a backslash when reporting sexual assault many incidents go unreported.

To add insult to injury, up until recently, servicewomen that became pregnant after being raped had to go out on leave and pay out of pocket for an abortion and counseling because the U.S. Military did not cover the expense unless the life of the woman was at risk. While a controversial topic, the practice was decried by many in hopes of having it corrected.  As such, President Obama signed the Defense Authorization Act  that, among other things, provides DOD funds for servicewomen who need abortions in case of rape or incest , particularly for those stationed overseas.

Thus, despite the fact that women in the military have defied gender biases, over achieved within all branches, much work remains to be done in order to reduce their risks of being raped by men within their own ranks.  For one incident is just too many and we should have zero tolerance with top commanders if their efforts to eradicate all acts of sexual harassment, assault or rape are less than 100 percent.

Am I being too idealistic?

Women in the U.S. Military: Growing Share, Distinctive Profile
Statistics on Women in the Military
Hispanics in the U.S. Army Statistics

Pa’lante Latino showcases current events in the arts, entertainment, politics, and culture as it affects our community. Above all, we are ferocious advocates of the contributions that Hispanics/Latinos have made to the United States and feature articles based on historical facts to reaffirm our relevance.Please feel free to email us at


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