Progress and equality for women in the military.

Celebrating a century of progress this International Women’s Day

From the First World War through to the modern day, women have played vital roles in the military. This International Women’s Day we take a look back at those who served during the World Wars and those who are serving today.

The military is stereotypically something for the boys. The first step towards equality was when Alexandra “Mona” Chalmers Watson and Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan created the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, Britain’s first all-female military unit. During the Second World War, the ATA was the first military organisation to offer equal pay to men and women of the same rank.

The lifting of the ban on women serving in close combat roles in 2016 is the latest step towards equal opportunities for women in the military, with the RAF becoming the first branch of the military to allow women into all its roles.

"The armed forces need women in all military roles if they are to understand and influence events on the battlefield and beyond." Hannah Bryce, Royal Institute of International Affairs

Below are six stories of women who served their country, three from the past and three from the modern era. Those who served nearly a century ago lived and died by their values, showed courage in the face of danger, and helped create the modern world.

From their sacrifices, those who are serving today are able to do so on an equal footing, but there are still strides to be made. Take these stories as inspiration so that we can continue to #PressForProgress.

The past

From nurses to spies to pilots, women weren't found to be lacking in the courage needed during the First and Second World Wars.

Edith Cavell was executed for the aid she gave to wounded British soldiers, while Noor Inyat Khan, a writer, musician and spy, was the last British radio operator in Paris in 1943 before she was captured and executed.

Meanwhile, on the home front the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) was staffed by those who couldn't fly in the RAF, such as men who were missing their legs or an eye and women. They did their duty without flinching, flying every type of aircraft owned by the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm.

The present

Women have achieved a greater level of equality in the military than ever before. But there is still progress to be made.

Laura felt that she had to choose between her military career and being a mother, while Stacey doesn't feel like a veteran as she only sees men in the headlines. In Afghanistan, Captain Anna Crossley performed a vital role as Female Engagement Officer working with the Afghan women.

The journey

A timeline of the roles that women have played in conflict and the progress they have made.

The role of women in the military has changed over the past century. We've charted the progress from creation of the WAAC (Women's Army Auxiliary Corp) to modern day.

Women at War 100