Women warriors are a bigger hit in the popular imagination than with army recruiters. The Woman King, this autumn’s surprise box office hit, dramatises the female fighters of the historic African kingdom of Dahomey. Other challenges to damsel-in-distress stereotypes have come from historical battlers such as Boudicca and Ukraine’s modern-day women volunteers. But women remain poorly represented in most militaries.

Equality aside, there is a demographic and economic argument for developed nations to make service life more attractive to women and hire larger numbers. Populations are ageing, shrinking the pool of young men military recruiters have traditionally depended on to accept modest military wages.

Women make up only 17 per cent of US armed services and 11 per cent in the UK, according to Nato figures. The US Army recently admitted it had missed its fiscal year recruiting goal by 25 per cent, equivalent to 15,000 soldiers. Leaked documents last year pointed to a similar undershoot in the UK.

Lex charts showing share of female military personnel on active duty by selected countries and the inflow of women into the UK armed forces, by military branch

The exemplary records of some female service personnel, such as US Army combat hero Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester, have weakened arguments against women soldiers based on traditional gender stereotypes. But a chicken and egg problem remains: when one group is thinly represented, the prevailing culture will not change.

A Nato study on the integration of women into the armed forces found they are trained like men, evaluated on the same basis, pressured to become “one of the guys” and picked on. British women soldiers have complained of bullying and body armour that does not fit.

There is also a pay gap, albeit much smaller in the UK armed forces than in the broader workforce. The median is 2.3 per cent. The US Army claims it has no pay gap because male and female ranks are equally remunerated. This ignores a higher promotion rate for men.

There is a good ethical and pragmatic case for female participation in the military. Equal opportunities should not end at the barracks gate. Armed services should reflect the values of the society they represent. All-male occupying forces have a deservedly dreadful reputation. The presence of female personnel can provide modest reassurance to anxious locals.

The task of military recruiters is already hard enough. Challenges include recessionary pressure on defence budgets, a trend for more young people to attend university and declining public fitness levels. Armies, like companies, need access to all the talent they can muster. That means employing more women.

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