Human Rights and the US Military

This week, I want to focus on the many violation of human rights that take place within the United States’ armed forces.  There are many related issues including the gender demographics of soldiers, sexual assault, health care system, and the don’t ask don’t tell policy.  All of these things contribute to the underrepresentation of women in the armed forces.

First, it is important to understand how and why women are excluded from serving.  Women make up approximately fifteen percent of the military population that actively fights in combat.  They are not allowed to hold certain positions within the armed forces.  All positions in the Air Force and Coast Guard are available to women, but this is not the case in the Navy, Army, and Marine Corps.  Women are excluded from these positions, often becomes of stereotypical ideas about gender.  Even at the surface level, women are not seen as capable of doing the same type of work as men.  This mentality is based off of a sweeping generalization that women are not as strong or tough as men.  Although this may speak for a majority, there needs to be room for the exceptions.

Also, when women are in the armed forces they are not given access to the best health care for their needs.  “Some women have raised concerns over privacy, and adequate access to feminine hygiene products or gender-specific prescriptions such as birth control pills while in theater,’ the report said.”  It is very problematic that women are not able to take care of their own bodies.  Although the health care system of the armed forces is generally perceived from a positive perspective, this is not the case coming from a female perspective.

This is also related to the problem of sexual assault in the armed forces.  A report in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine states the approximately twenty-eight percent of women that have served in the armed forces report having been sexually assaulted.  This figure is an understatement because many cases go unreported because of fear or shame.  Reporting rape in the armed forces is especially dangerous because their is a lack of confidentiality.  This could be reflected on the woman’s record which she may not feel comfortable with.  Also, this information could make its way back to the rapist which could lead to potential danger for the survivor.  Christine Hansen has worked with many women that have been involved in the armed forces and they often describe military sexual assault as a “rite of passage.”  It has been estimated that one in three female service members will be sexually assaulted while serving.  If this is the way that American soldiers are treating one another, we can only imagine what is being done to the people in the countries we are invading.  Of course, many people speak out against crimes committee by Americans abroad, but we need to pay attention to the crimes being committed on our own ground.

Lastly, I wanted to talk about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the U.S. military policy which bans openly gay men and women from serving in the armed forces.  These individuals are allowed to serve but only if they hide their sexual orientation.  Obviously, your sexual orientation does not affect your ability to serve your country, so the basis for this law is not factual evidence proving that heterosexual people are better able to serve in the armed forces.  Homophobia is alive and well in the United States and this is a prime example.  Since 1994, “more than 13,5000 service members have been discharged under the law.”  Eighty percent of discharges result from a service member coming out about their sexuality, but there are often cases of third-party outings.  Recently, Jene Newsome was “honorably” discharged under this law because she was outed by a police officer.  While police were in her home, they saw her marriage certificate and decided to notify officials at the Ellsworth Air Force Base.  This is a violation of SO many human rights.  First of all, they completely violated her privacy by investigating her personal property and using it against her in an unrelated case.  Then, these officers violated internal police policies which ultimately led to Newsome’s honorable discharge. Newsome was hopeful that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would be repealed soon and she could serve openly.  Unfortunately, she was not able to see the day where she could express herself openly.  This law is openly challenged and criticized, by lawmakers and citizens alike.

It is appalling that someone’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity hinder their career opportunities.  Obama has spoken about repealing this law, but so far no action has been taken.  The armed forces need to seriously reevaluate their priorities.  All service members should feel safe and comfortable.  One’s personal identity should not be a source of conflict within a group of people that is supposed to be united.  Stressing these differences leads to many problems.

We are supposedly granted freedom by living in the United States, but our career choices and lifestyle are inevitably intertwined with our identity, often in a detrimental way.  We are free to be our own person and express ourselves, but have to deal with serious consequences dictated by our own government.  If someone is able and willing to sacrifice their life for the sake of their country, what should their sexual orientation and/or gender matter?  Why would someone want to enlist in the armed forces if they know their health and safety are going to be compromised?

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Mohammed
    Mar 14, 2010 @ 17:09:46

    there is nothing so satisfying than individuals like you speaking against policies in your own country that denies some individuals the full blessing of their American is so disturbing that women in the military cannot speak out about abuses done to them simply because of the lack of “confidentiality” in the military system. if we can’t keep it as a secret without without placing it on a woman’s record, while at the same time deal with the rapists, then we are indirectly encouraging the assault on women in the military. THE IS NO EXCUSE FOR THAT.and on the issue of Don’t ask, Don’t tell, i personally believe that everyone should be given the chance to serve his or her nation to their full ability. but before we do that, we should also think about the distraction gay people might cause in the military. don’t you think there would be abuses among men and women especially since they are camped according to their sexes, not their sexual orientation, within the military? how could these distractions and abuses affect their performance at the battle field. so maybe we should give gay people a separate housing just like we separate men’s camp from women’s. and with the issue of women not been able to hold certain positions in the military, dont you think, and i don’t mean to be rude, that women’s performance/strength could be threatened during the five to six days of menstruation? because some people have given medical reasons to back this rule. but totherwise, there should be no reason why women should be denied the opportunity to serve their nation. i agree with you.


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