This week, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the ban on American women serving in combat. The news broke quickly and widely, and immediately took me back to 1995, when civilian pilot and aeronautical engineer Alice Miller petitioned the High Court of Justice to take the Israeli Air Force pilot training exams after being rejected on grounds of gender. Eventually she won — and became the first female pilot in the IDF. Up until then, women’s roles in the IDF were entirely gender-oriented; they were secretaries, administrators and office managers. By winning in court, Alice Miller opened the gate for women in the IDF to move beyond their desks and serve in combat.
In 2000, still more than a decade before Panetta’s groundbreaking announcement, the Equality Amendment to Israel’s Military Service law stated that the right of women to serve in any role in the IDF is equal to the right of men. And so in 2001, Roni Zuckerman became the first female jet fighter pilot. In November 2007, the Air Force appointed its first woman deputy squadron commander. In 2011, Orna Barbivai became the first female Major-General in the IDF.
These stories bring words like “bravery” and “heroism” to mind, and for good reason: Women have worked extraordinarily hard, fighting and struggling to earn their achievements. Still, it took five decades (the IDF was founded in 1948) for women to have the same service opportunities as men — four decades in which women were considered incapable of performing in certain roles simply because of their gender. Even decades after the “women liberation” revolution, it is still news when women receive an equal chance in certain fields.
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