Women Are Now Allowed to Join British Special Forces for the First Time, Defense Secretary Says

Women are now allowed to join all units of the British military, including the special forces, for the first time.

The United Kingdom's Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson announced the change this week while speaking at a military training exercise on Salisbury Plain, located in central southern England.

"Women have led the way with exemplary service in the armed forces for over 100 years, working in a variety of specialist and vital roles," Williamson said, Sky News reported. "So I am delighted that from today, for the first time in its history, our armed forces will be determined by ability alone and not gender."

A group of female soldiers pose for a photograph next to a statue of Millicent Fawcett in after participating in "Processions" to celebrate 100 years of votes for women on June 10 in London. This week, Gavin Williamson announced that, for the first time, women are allowed to join all units of the British military, including the special forces. Chris J. Ratcliffe/Getty Images

While women have previously served in supporting roles within the Special Air Service and the Special Boat Service, all opportunities within the elite military divisions are now available, so long as they meet the necessary requirements.

"Every single role in our armed forces will be open to women," Williamson confirmed to British newspaper The Telegraph. "Opening all combat roles to women will not only make the armed forces a more modern employer but will ensure we recruit the right person for the right role," he pointed out.

Women were banned from serving in the U.K.'s close combat units until 2016. After that ban was lifted, they were still prevented from serving as frontline infantry units. With the military's new decision, all women and men will be required to pass the same gender-neutral test, which requires a high level of muscular endurance, strength and stamina, according to officers who spoke to British media.

Although most defense analysts have welcomed the decision, some have raised concerns. Retired officer Colonel Richard Kemp has said that the policy would "cost lives" and would "lead to divisiveness" that could undermine teamwork, according to The Telegraph.

Britain's Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson arrives to attend the weekly meeting of the cabinet in Downing Street in London on October 9 TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images

But Kat Dixon, a 28-year-old trooper, pushed back against such arguments. "Female soldiers are already here, and my gender hasn't posed a challenge because if you meet the requirements there isn't a role that is off limits," Dixon, who became the first British female gunner of a main battle tank, told the newspaper.

In the U.S., the Defense Department announced in December 2015 that starting next January, women would be allowed to serve in all roles of the military. The decision came after consultation with leaders from the Army and the Marines. Although the Marines suggested that women be kept from a few specific combat roles, the Army disagreed and former Defense Secretary Ash Carter moved forward with the decision.

"[Women will] be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars, and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They'll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers and everything else that was previously open only to men," Carter said at the time.