UK parliamentary report finds bullying, harassment of women in military
London: Sixty-four per cent of female veterans and 58 per cent of currently serving women reported experiencing bullying, harassment and discrimination (BHD) during their careers in the UK military, according to a new parliamentary report put out on Sunday.
The House of Commons Defence Sub-Committee on Women in the Armed Forces, in its report entitled Protecting Those Who Protect Us: Women in the Armed Forces from Recruitment to Civilian Life’, said that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and military services are failing to protect female personnel and to help servicewomen achieve their full potential .
While most servicewomen and female veterans that were consulted for the report, nearly 90 per cent of respondents to a survey, would recommend the Armed Forces as a career, more than 3,000 (around 84 per cent) reported that female service personnel face additional challenges relative to their male counterparts.
Women are integral to our military’s success and our country’s security, yet women in the Armed Forces carry additional burdens to that of their male colleagues, said Conservative Party MP Sarah Atherton, Chair of the Sub-Committee.
Women face barriers to promotion, issues with families and childcare, abuse and inappropriate behaviours, and an overrepresentation in the Service Complaints system. Female veterans face distinctive challenges when transitioning into civilian life and have specific needs, different to male veterans, that cannot be dealt with by broad-brush, one-size-fits-all veterans’ services, she said.
A female veteran herself, Atherton said the stories the committee heard paint a difficult picture for women in the military. Accounts of bullying, harassment, discrimination, laddish behaviour, and sometimes serious sexual assault and rape were among the complaints.
The complaints system, as it stands, is woefully inadequate and leaves most feeling unable to come forward. We also heard accusations of senior officers sweeping complaints under the rug to protect their own reputations and careers. While many commanding officers want to do the right thing, it is clear that, too often, female service personnel are being let down by the chain of command, she added.
The Sub-Committee recommends that the MoD create a specialised Defence Authority to handle BHD complaints and that the MoD better resource the Service Complaints Ombudsman and make their decisions binding.
It also calls on the MoD to reverse the recent decision to reduce the appeals period from six weeks to two.
It is clear from this report that more can, and should, be done to protect and provide for servicewomen and female veterans, who have, far too often, been let down by the Ministry of Defence. Where there has been injustice, rectifications must be made, said Conservative Party MP Tobias Ellwood, Chair of the Commons Defence Committee.
Our Sub-Committee has conducted in-depth research, over several months, on the issue of sexual assault and rape, and has an accurate and honest understanding of the problems women face. This is not a race to the bottom or a matter of saving face. We should place the issue itself at the heart of our work, he said.
UK minister of state for defence Annabel Goldie said many changes have been introduced to improve the experience for women in the armed forces.
The reality is that that experience is not yet equal, and very occasionally can be really harmful, she said.