In the spring of 2014, Tora, a 20-year-old living in Norway, received a letter from the armed forces inviting her to try out for Jegertroppen, or the Hunter Troop, a new Special Forces unit and the world’s first all-female military training program. Tora, who had recently graduated from high school and had, out of interest in a military career, visited an armed forces open day, did not hesitate to apply. “I had been waiting for the armed forces to come up with a tougher specialty for girls,” she explained.
Norway, along with Israel, opened combat positions to women in 1985, but only 10 percent of its soldiers are female. Before 1985, women served only in support functions such as medics and engineers. For special operations, the number of female members is still zero: the country’s Special Forces is open to women, but few had applied and none had passed the admissions test. The lack of women has limited the Special Forces’ effectiveness in international operations. “In Afghanistan, one of our big challenges was that we would enter houses and not be able to speak to the women,” explained Captain Ole Vidar Krogsaeter, an officer with Norway’s Special Forces Operations. “In urban warfare, you have to be able to interact with women as well. Adding female soldiers was an operational need.”
Technological advances in weaponry are partly to blame for the low participation rate among women. “Soldiers carry more weight now than during the Vietnam War, primarily because their protective gear is heavier,” Colonel Linda Sheimo, the chief of the U.S. Army Command Policy Division and the former chair of the NATO Committee on Gender Perspectives, told me. In Afghanistan, for example, U.S. infantry soldiers typically carry 70 to 100 pounds of gear and equipment, much of which is lifesaving body armor. A decade ago, the U.S. Marine Corps, after noticing the large number of pelvic fractures suffered by women in its officer candidate school, calculated that the average female officer cadet