Depending on the Navy’s decision, women may be allowed to serve on submarines.
The integration, which officials say could happen by 2011, is backed by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen. This change would be a welcomed move toward both sexual equality and the maximization of talented personnel available to the fleets.
Women have been allowed to serve on surface combat ships since 1993. If the Navy allows women to serve aboard submarines, the U.S. would be following a precedent set by Sweden, Spain, Norway, Canada and Australia.
However, both critics and proponents of the move have brought up possible problems with the integration.
One issue is the lack of living space. Integrating women would require separation of living quarters, and there might not be enough rooms.
According to the Navy, some nuclear submarine only have two bathrooms for the 140 enlisted men who sleep in spaces equivalent to closets, because equipment and supplies occupy much of the space. Other submarines have seven toilets – still a difficult living situation.
With careful planning and space management, however, this problem can be resolved. According to an article in the Washington Post, female officers could have their own reserved sleeping space and share the men’s bathrooms on a schedule.
Another concern is that women leave the Navy earlier than men because of pregnancies and to start families, so there could be unpredicted losses of submarine crew.
Critics of the idea say countries that allow women to serve in submarines use diesel-powered submarines, which have shorter deployment times than American nuclear-powered submarines.
Others worry for the health of those who become pregnant and are exposed to air pollutants on submarines, but withholding the rights of all women to serve just for those who may become pregnant is wrong. There should be no problem if women report their pregnancies and, if necessary, take time off to give birth and raise a child.
Some claim that mixing men and women in such tight spaces encourages sexual harassment and marital infidelity. There is a Navy ban on fraternization between men and women, and despite the occasional breach, problems have been rare since women were allowed to serve on surface combat ships, according to The Associated Press.
While Navy spouses may worry about fraternization, they should have no more worry than those who work with other people in an office on a daily basis. Isolated incidents should not bar women from getting one step closer to total equality in any workplace.
According to the AP, the integration policy could be written by late October or early November, and it must be approved by Defense Secretary Robert Gates before implementation. The Navy should allow this policy change, and Gates needs to approve it. Women are just as valuable as men on land, and the same principles of fairness should apply at the bottom of the ocean.
Neil Manimala is a junior majoring in biomedical sciences.