In a speech celebrating International Women’s Day, Joe Biden touted increasing opportunities for women in the US military and urged leaders at the Pentagon to continue making progress towards gender equality.
From elevating more women to military leadership roles to taking “relatively straightforward” steps such as designing armour and military gear that fits women properly, Mr Biden indicated he hoped to create a force where women could “thrive”.
The president used his speech on Monday to announce the nomination of two female generals for four star commands after their promotions were previously held back under the Trump administration, according to a New York Times report.
General Jacqueline Van Ovost of the air force and Lieutenant General Laura Richardson of the army were both first considered for a promotion back in the fall of 2020, as senior leaders of the Pentagon all agreed they should be given four-star commands.
After a lag in the Trump administration, Mr Biden has now moved to elevate them in the military ranks, touting their recent work to provide humanitarian aid to Texans suffering from power outages last month and bring supplies to local officials on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic response.
“They're warriors. They're crisis tested commanders,” Mr Biden said of them.
“Best of all, they're not done yet. Neither of these incredible generals is resting on her laurels or on her stars. They're using their voices and actively working to change policies in the military to make it easier and safer for more women not just to join the military, but to stay in the military, and to thrive,” he said.
Mr Biden highlighted the work of his former boss, President Barack Obama, in opening up several roles within the armed services to women for the first time.
“Women who join today's military aren't told ‘no’ when they apply to fly fighter jets or attack helicopters just because of their gender. They aren't told ‘no’ when they want to apply to Ranger School, or infantry officer basic training,” he said. “But they all know that there's much, much more work to be done to ensure that women's leadership is recognised and we have more diverse leaders who’ve reached the top echelons of command.”
Mr Biden also addressed the ongoing problem of high rates of sexual misconduct and assault in the military.
The Pentagon’s most recent biennial report on sexual assault in the military, from 2019, found that the instances of assault had increased to 20,500 that year, up from 14,900 from the previous survey.
Roughly 6.2 per cent of the US military women surveyed for the 2019 report said they had been sexually assaulted.
“In our military so much of unit cohesion is built on trusting your fellow service members to have your back,” Mr Biden said on Monday.
Sexual assault is “nothing less than a threat to our national security,” he said.