Australia's government has lifted its ban on women serving in front line combat, making it just the fourth country in the developed world with no restrictions on the role of female soldiers.
The move, announced on Tuesday (27 September), means women serving in the Australian military will soon be able to serve in special force units in conflict zones such as Afghanistan.
Defense Minister Stephen Smith said the ban on women in front line combat would be lifted immediately but could take up to five years to implement fully.
"We have an Australian Army that’s been going for 110 years, an Australian Navy that’s been going formally for 100 years, and an Australian Air Force that’s been going for 90 years, and last night, we resolved to remove the final restrictions on the capacity of women to serve in frontline combat roles,” he said. “In the future, your role in the defense force will be determined on your ability, not on the basis of your sex ... This is a significant and major cultural change."
Just over 300 women currently serve in overseas military operations for Australia, accounting for over 10 percent of the country's fighting forces.
Critics dismissed the move to open up all roles to women in the armed forces as a political gimmick.
Neil James, the head of the Australian Defence Association lobby group, said the government was "jumping the gun" on a study currently being carried out on women's skills in a military context.
"It doesn't actually give us a lot of confidence that this is anything more than another political gimmick and a distraction," James said in an interview with ABC radio.
Australia now joins Canada, New Zealand and Israel as the only developed countries who place no restrictions on the role of women in their armed forces.
Around 17,900 women (or 9.1 percent) serve in the UK military with 3,670 ranking as officers. None are allowed in front line combat or situations where the primary duty is "to close with and kill the enemy."
Over in the US, women make up around 14 percent of the armed forces, but are similarly banned from certain front line roles in infantry and special forces.