Today news broke that Secretary of Defense Panetta is to release a statement Thursday that he plans to lift the ban on women serving in combat. This comes just a few months after four female service members filed suit challenging the ban. While, Panetta had opened some 14,500 combat positions to women over the last few years, the women and their ACLU defense attorney said it was not enough, and that the ban must be removed. The military remains one of the few places of work in which, women face blatant sex discrimination on an every day basis. Furthermore, in 2011 the Military Leadership Diversity Commission produced a report that called for an end to the ban on women serving in combat.
But why now? It seems as though Panetta is rushing to lift the ban before he is to be replaced by Sen. Chuck Hagel (once confirmed) who has an anti-women’s rights track record. If Panetta does not formally lift the ban on women serving in combat prior to leaving office, the chances of gender equality on the front lines are slim to none. In 2000, Sen. Hagel voted yes on maintaining the ban on military base abortions. In 2002, Hagel voted no on adding sexual orientation to the definition of hate crimes and in 1997 he voted yes to end special funding for minority and women – owned businesses. Hagel has a history of taking an anti-gay rights stance in his voting practices but surprisingly endorsed the repeal od Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. While Hagel’s recent discourse has been somewhat supportive of progressive movements within the military, his very conservative republican track record speaks otherwise.