U.S. Lawmakers Ask Whether It's Time for Women to Register for the Draft

Two Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill about women and the draft in order to spur conversation. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Two Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill about women and the draft in order to spur conversation. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

If a bill introduced by two Congressional lawmakers gains traction, women could be required to register for the military draft.

The bill, introduced by Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) on Feb. 4, 2016, affects women between the ages of 18 and 26 and, if passed by both the House and Senate, would mean mandatory registration for military service. Although the U.S. military is currently an all-volunteer service, if this bill passes and the national draft is activated, registered women would be called to military service alongside their male counterparts.


"If this administration wants to send 18- to 20-year-old women into combat, to serve and fight on the front lines, then the American people deserve to have this discussion through their elected representatives," said Hunter, a Marine veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, in a statement, also revealing he would likely vote against his own bill.

In fact, Hunter and his fellow lawmaker, a former Navy SEAL, said that the goal of introducing the bill was to spur both Congressional discussion and national debate, and it has.

"The public's mixed reaction to the idea of a military draft for women is a perfect reflection of the uncertainty people still have about women taking on the kind of violent, aggressive roles that men have traditionally held in our society," says Mario Almonte, a writer who specializes in politics and social issues.

The bill comes on the heels of a December 2015 announcement by the Pentagon that it plans to open all combat positions to women, without exception. The announcement, made by Defense Secretary Ash Carter, means that female service members can for the first time join elite military forces like the Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces and other special-operations units. It also opens the ranks of the Marine Corps infantry to female service members.

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Many U.S. military combat roles opened to women in 2013, and the Pentagon announced in December 2015 it would lift all restrictions.
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This movement to allow female military access to combat roles began in earnest after then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in early 2013 lifted a ban on women serving in ground combat units. What followed was a three-year pilot project that integrated women in the armed services, including two early 2015 female soldiers who became the first ever to graduate from Army Ranger School. The project also spawned acrimonious debate about integration, with Army, Navy, Air Force and U.S. Special Operations Command opening all jobs to women and the Marine Corps denying certain roles to women, such as machine gunner, before ultimately acquiescing.

The U. S. has joined at least 17 other industrialized countries — including Denmark, Germany, Poland and Sweden — that have women in combat roles. In the U.S., it has become largely a debate of policy rather than practice. Since Sept. 11, 2001, at least 88 women have died in combat while serving in non-frontline roles that include piloting fighter jets. Most were killed in Afghanistan or Iraq, where "front lines" are a blurred notion.

In addition, several countries, including Cuba, Israel and Norway, have compulsory military service for women.

"Wars today rely less on brute strength and more on intellectual capacity," says Almonte. "Drones are replacing 'boots on the ground' and much of today's military arsenal is controlled by computers. Therefore, the only true barrier to a female draft is a cultural mindset that finds it emotionally difficult to send women into combat."