Women in the Military
“Men do not have a monopoly on patriotism, physical ability, desire for adventure, or willingness to risk their lives. Until both the responsibilities and the rights of citizenship are shared on a gender-neutral basis, women will continue to be considered less than full-fledged citizens.”
For decades, the ACLU has worked in the courts and in Congress to end the combat exclusion policies that prevent women from serving alongside their fellow servicemen in combat arms units. In the 1970s, the ACLU successfully sued to overturn prohibitions against women serving aboard ships.
Exclusion of Women from Combat Units and Positions
In November 2012, the ACLU, the ACLU of Northern California, and the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP filed a lawsuit, Hegar v. Hagel, in which we represent four servicewomen and the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) in a challenge to the Defense Department’s longstanding policy barring women from thousands of ground combat positions.
Repeal of the Combat Exclusion Policy and the Way Forward
On January 23, 2013, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded the ban on women serving in ground combat units and set forth a plan to implement this policy change. The ACLU welcomed this victory with cautious optimism. Thousands of positions, as well as entire career fields and combat arms schools and training programs, remain closed to military women. We continue to litigate in court to fight these discriminatory exclusions of servicewomen. We also want to ensure that the Defense Department provides a path forward to leadership for the generation of women who, like our clients, fought valiantly and proved themselves in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan under the old policy. Otherwise, the military will lose talented, experienced, and skilled servicewomen. Our ongoing lawsuit keeps the pressure on the Defense Department and the service branches to move swiftly and efficiently to open the field of competition to all servicemembers.
Military Service Academies FOIA Litigation
In the decades since women first entered the military service academies in 1976, they have not exceeded 25 percent of the student body at the three major academies: the United States Military Academy at West Point; the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; and the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. These elite institutions provide free, federally funded educational instruction and a pathway to military leadership, yet women remain starkly underrepresented. Our FOIA activities aim to shed light on the barriers to women’s entry into these important federal institutions.