The United States has not had a military draft since 1973, but all males 18 to 25 years of age still must register with the Selective Service System. Soon, young women may be required to register as well.
Top Army and Marine Corps commanders recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the draft.
More than 200,000 American women are now on active military duty. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced last year that women may now serve in all combat roles. About 150 women have been killed on active duty in the conflicts since 2001 - mainly by improvised explosive devices or in plane crashes.
Ruth ben-Ghiat, a professor of military history at New York University, says the commanders’ recommendation for women to register “reflects in part where we’re going in society today, with a full integration gender-wise of the Armed Forces. I also think it’s part of bridging the gap between military and civilian," she said. "So, for women, if you want equal rights, you’ll now have equal duties.”
Surveys show that about 85 percent of the men in Special Operations Forces are against women being part of their unit.
Ben-Ghiat says because of that opposition, it was “interesting that a Marine general was advocating it because there’s been so much reluctance in Special Ops to having women amongst their ranks. Part of this is cultural,” she added.
Republican presidential hopeful Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, unlike most of the other presidential candidates, is against the idea. Senator Cruz, in a briefing a few days ago, called it “political correctness.”
Cruz said “the idea that we would draft our daughters to forcibly bring them into the military and put them in close combat, I think, is wrong. It is immoral, and if I am president, we ain’t [are not] doing it.”
Young women, primarily, have been the push for draft registration.
Moravian College student Elizabeth Kyle-LaBell filed a class action discrimination lawsuit in 2013 against the Selective Service System. The college freshman said the statements by the commanders in front of the Senate Committee “made me feel like my whole case is reasonable and it is something that needs to be fixed, and women should be required to register for the draft if men are.”
When asked if she thought most women want to be included in registering for the draft, she said “no, but most men don’t want to be included in the draft either.”
Kyle-LaBell believes that “if it’s immoral for women to fight like men do, then men shouldn’t be fighting either. We should have no military."
New York City probably has the most unique location for any military recruiting station in America - right in the middle of Times Square. When VOA stopped by that station the other day, an Air Force recruiter, Sergeant Marco Smerkol, was talking with three young women who volunteered for military duty.
One of them, 17-year-old Emily De La Cruz, told us that “if women have fought before in order for us to join the military, and if we were to have to join the draft, we should be ready to serve our country, fight for our country, defend our country.”
Another, 20-year-old Nicole Golfin, said, “I think it’s a great idea. I think women have just as equal-like power mentally, and physical strength to help fight for this country.”
The third woman recruit was college graduate Danielle Wilkins, 24. When asked about the idea of women registering for the draft, she said, “I’m kind of against it. I do believe that women and men should have the same equal opportunities, but I believe it should not be a requirement for women.”
No recent survey has yet to get a cross-section of American women’s feelings about registration. The National Organization for Women told VOA that in 1980 it was opposed to the draft, but said that “if there is a draft, it supports including women on the same basis as men.”
NYU’s Ben-Ghiat summed it up this way: “point 4 percent [.004] of the American population serves in the military today. And women are half the population. So that is one big reason, Special Ops aside, the military is in favor of this.”