The vast majority of people in the UK know very little about women who have served in the Armed Forces, potentially hampering efforts to increase numbers, according to new research commissioned by Anglia Ruskin University (ARU).
In an Ipsos poll of more than 2,000 people aged 16 and over from across the UK, 82% of people felt they knew little or nothing about women who have served in Armed Forces roles. Respondents also said they learned most of what they know from television, either through factual programmes (37%) or film/TV dramas (32%).
The vast majority of respondents (79%) said they admired women who have served within the Armed Forces, but despite this, the Ministry of Defence’s target of women making up 15% of all Armed Forces personnel by 2020 was never met. The most recent figures show women make up just under 12% of the intake. This compares poorly to other Five Eyes countries such as the USA (16.5%) and Australia (18.6%).
Following the Atherton report, the MoD has signalled an intention for women to make up 30% of the intake by 2030. However, the new research by ARU suggests that there remains a huge lack of awareness among the general public.
The survey also revealed that 68% supported women being able to occupy combat roles. This number fell to 56% when asked if they would support a female relative or a friend joining the Armed Forces in a combat role. Women have been able to undertake combat roles in the UK Armed Forces since 2018.
As part of its existing Veterans and Families Institute for Military Social Research (VFI), ARU is launching a new research centre, The Centre for Military Women’s Research, focusing on women in the military and veteran community, next month. The new centre aims to increase knowledge and awareness of women in Armed Forces roles.
Dr Lauren Godier-McBard, Associate Professor and Women and Equalities Research Lead for the VFI at ARU, said:
“Our results clearly show a lack of knowledge about women who have served in the Armed Forces, perhaps suggesting the Ministry of Defence faces an uphill struggle to try and increase the proportion to 30% by 2030.
“It was clear from our results that women who have carried out Armed Forces roles are supported and admired by the public. In recent years, television shows such as Our Girl and Red Cap have attempted to depict the lives of servicewomen.
“Despite this, there is still a worrying lack of knowledge about women in the Armed Forces, the roles they can carry out and the impact of this on them after military service.
“It is clear there is a need for more research into the experiences of women in the Armed Forces, so the recruits of the future can make an informed decision about whether to enter such a career. Our new research centre aims to do just that.”