Germany's armed forces finally open up doors to female recruits

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The Independent Online

The annals of Germanic mythology may be replete with the military exploits of women, but only since yesterday have members of the fairer sex been allowed soldiering in the Bundeswehr. With the arrival of 244 female volunteers at the barracks, Germany belatedly joined the ranks of most European countries which had long ago admitted women into the ultimate male bastion.

The annals of Germanic mythology may be replete with the military exploits of women, but only since yesterday have members of the fairer sex been allowed soldiering in the Bundeswehr. With the arrival of 244 female volunteers at the barracks, Germany belatedly joined the ranks of most European countries which had long ago admitted women into the ultimate male bastion.

More than 4,000 women serve in the Bundeswehr, many of them in the Balkans. But not a single one has been allowed even to fondle a gun, lest it should accidentally go off in her untrained hands. Women could only be trusted with the task of either treating the injured or making music.

Now, thanks to a ruling by the European Court in Luxembourg, they can undergo combat training. Some 1,900 applied in the euphoria whipped up by the Luxembourg judgment almost exactly a year ago, and one in four made the grade. Of the initial batch that turned up bleary-eyed at dawn yesterday, 151 are joining the army, 17 the navy, and 76 starting a career in the Luftwaffe.

Apart from these eager recruits, almost nobody in Germany wanted this to happen. Women and weapons do not mix in the German psyche - the Valkyries notwithstanding. Even in the dying moments of the Third Reich, women were spared from military duty when boys were being ordered to man the gun emplacements of Berlin. The post-war constitution strictly forbade women bearing arms.

There was no question of changing that until an electrical engineer named Tanja Kreil applied to join the Bundeswehr in 1996, and was flatly rejected on the grounds of her gender. It was Ms Kreil who pursued the matter through the courts until her victory in Luxembourg.

Germany was forced to change its constitution, the two houses of parliament passing the enabling Act last autumn. The European judgment left a loophole open, allowing the Bundeswehr to bar women from the special services. But because this would have contravened German laws on sexual equality, the government in Berlin did not dare to push it through.

As a result, any job in the army is now open to women. They can pilot the Eurofighter, captain a U-boat, or even command an anti-terrorist squad.

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