Should Women Register for the Draft?

A National Commission on Military, National and Public Service released an interim report on Jan. 23 outlining potential changes to the Selective Service System and the nation’s policy on public and national service. The commission plans to reach a decision by 2020 which could potentially affect every American between the ages of 18 and 25 if the federal government decides to follow their recommendations.

One of the suggestions before the commission is opening Selective Service registration to both men and women, making them equally available for a draft if the need arises.  But before the commission makes an argument for adding women to the national draft, they should stop and ask if the military can ensure their safety in the ranks.  

Controversy and opposition already surround the military’s decision to allow women into combat positions. The commission should take a hard look at the misogyny and abuse that women volunteers already face before suggesting that women be forced to register and later drafted.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense’s annual report, 5,277 service members reported sexual assault in 2017, an increase of 10 percent from 2016. Of these 5,277 reports, 4,193 were women. The DoD claimed they successfully took disciplinary action against 2,218 of those cases, including those charged for unrelated crimes including underage drinking.

While the DoD described an increase in reports a success, there is still a fear of discrimination and retribution in the military for women who report abuse. In a 2014 study, Anne G. Sadler found servicewomen were less likely to report due to possible career consequences and embarrassment because of the unrestricted reporting process favored by the DoD.  

Lura McCraw, a 23-year-old senior at UNC – Chapel Hill and English major, recognized the possible dangers of drafting women.

“Because we live in a patriarchal society, women have a much higher chance of facing discrimination due to their gender, as well as having a higher risk of sexual assault,” McCraw said.

A draft would not only threaten women’s physical bodies but would also potentially affect their mental health.

In a 2017 study, Lizabeth Goldstein found a correlation between sexual assault and both depression and PTSD. Unlike combat trauma, which was closely correlated to PTSD, only sexual trauma and harassment were associated with depression. Research from the Department of Veteran Affairs also suggests that women suffer higher rates of mental illness than their male counterparts, along with higher rates of physical and sexual abuse during their time in the military.

If a soldier is found to suffer from mental illness – like depression – they can be discharged from service if the military believes it interferes with the performance of duty, according to the Department of Defense. Mental illness is not considered a disability discharge.

Along with safety and health risks, women in the military also suffer from inequitable career opportunities. 

Before the DoD lifted the combat ban for women in 2016, women were barred from career-enhancing combat positions, which resulted in a lower promotion rate for women in the military. Although combat positions are now open to women, according to the Military Leadership Diversity Commission, women are still subject to individual bias – leading to the same results.

In the same report, the MLDC found female officers in the Navy, Army and Coast Guard had lower promotion rates than average and were underrepresented across all branches, even though they comprise almost 50 percent of the eligible recruiting pool.

The military is supposed to be an opportunity for volunteers to learn skills that can be used in the corporate world, along with discipline training and a potential career. Many women have fought hard to have a chance to gain those skills and opportunities; the government needs to be sure they have a fair – and safe – shot at advancement.

Before the commission recommends opening Selective Service registration to women, they need to find solutions for the sexist culture in the military. To help remedy the risks for women in the military, the commission should recommend that the DoD not only tracks the diversity in the military but incentivizes it. They should also normalize and celebrate women in leadership positions and provide more emotional support for victims of abuse.