Britain's female soldiers will be allowed to serve in close combat roles on the front line after David Cameron lifted the ban today (8 July). The move was confirmed by Downing Street.
While women had previously been permitted to serve on the front line, they were not allowed to serve in the infantry or armoured corps. The prime minister confirmed the breakthrough in the Polish capital, Warsaw, where he is attending a NATO summit.
According to a BBC report, some 7,000 female soldiers are currently enlisted in the British Army, but research suggests just 5% would pass the necessary physical tests. It comes after a similar move by US Defence Secretary Ash Carter in December 2015 allowing women access to all combat roles in the military.
Cameron said his decision to lift the ban follows guidance from the head of the army, General Sir Nick Carter. "I agree with his advice and have accepted his recommendation. I have asked that this is implemented as soon as possible," the prime minister said.
"It is vital that our armed forces are world-class and reflect the society we live in. Lifting this ban is a major step. It will ensure the armed forces can make the most of all their talent and increase opportunities for women to serve in the full range of roles," Cameron added.
Speaking to the Times, an unidentified former female soldier said the latest move would pave the way for further fair opportunities. "There is no real reason why women can't do ground close combat," she said. "It is all about combat effectiveness and how you work as a team and the capability you provide."
In 2014 Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said he aimed to "open up combat roles to women" this year. He added that access to such roles "should be determined by ability and not gender."
Cameron has been a supporter of allowing women to serve in close combat capacities. In December 2015 he said: "The Defence Secretary [Michael Fallon] and I are united in wanting to see all roles in our armed forces opened up to women in 2016.
"We've already lifted a number of barriers in our armed forces with the introduction of female submariners and women reaching the highest ranks in all services. We should finish the job next year and open up ground combat roles to women."