Women need “military MeToo movement” says Midlothian MP

Thursday May 18th 2023


Midlothian MP Owen Thompson.

Written by Midlothian View Reporter, Luke Jackson

Women need “military MeToo movement to combat sexism and misogyny” in the armed forces, says MP.

SNP veterans spokesman speaks out after report reveals misogyny complaints in the armed forces. Female personnel remain overrepresented in the armed services complaints system, making up 21% of complaints but only 12% of the armed forces.

Women serving in the armed forces need a “military MeToo movement to combat sexism and misogyny”, according to an MP.

Owen Thompson called for sweeping changes to support female service personnel following the revelation that women disproportionately face bullying, harassment and discrimination.

Female personnel remain overrepresented in the armed services complaints system, making up 21% of complaints but only 12% of the armed forces, according to a new report from the Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces (SCOAF).

Thompson, the SNP’s armed forces and veterans spokesman, cited the MeToo movement which raised awareness of the issue of sexual harassment and abuse of women in the workplace.

The movement exploded into the public consciousness in 2017 in response to allegations of sexual abuse by Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein.

Midlothian MP Thompson, said: “This is shocking state of affairs that has been left to fester for far too long.

“The armed forces go above and beyond the call for us yet women who serve are being particularly let down. There is the need for a military MeToo movement to combat sexism and misogyny and get rid of any vestiges of the old boys club mentality.

“Women in the Army, Royal Navy and RAF have been denied justice for years by a hopelessly inadequate military complaints process. The Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces Mariette Hughes does a noble job but for too long, she has been raising the issues and action has not been taken.”

Thompson called for certain cases to be dealt with outside the military justice system after Hughes found the service complaints system was broken.

She said the existing system was still not efficient, effective or fair in her annual report which covered last year.

Key issues which continue to affect the operation of the system include the effect of changes to the appeals system, a lack of flexibility in dealing with the nuances of individual Service Complaints, the system not dealing with complaints at the lowest level and the persistent view that the system will discriminate against service personnel who raise complaints.

Thompson said: “Scotland has a proud military history and we need to honour that by looking after our serving and retired personnel.

“The fact that women are still be let down as they serve in the military is an absolute disgrace. Perhaps now is the time for serious sexual assault and rape cases, for example, to be taken out of the military justice system and tried in civilian courts instead.

“It has been shown in the past that convictions for rape in the military are four to six times lower than in civilian courts. New ways of dealing with complaints and allegations of bullying, harassment and discrimination need to be taken forward which place the dispensing of justice outwith the chain of command.

“This will be the tip of the iceberg as too many women will remain silent as they feel that speaking out will end their careers.

“In many ways, the forces have made great strides to improve equality, diversity and fairness in the workplace. But this cannot go on with women facing a raw deal. Too many men inside and outside the military are living in the Stone Age.

“Enough is enough. It is hugely concerning that women are reportedly 10 times more likely than men to experience sexual harassment. Previous research into the forces also noted that many women personnel lived in fear, failing to complain because of fear of reprisals and repercussions.”

In 2022, 935 service complaints were ruled admissible. The average complaint takes 35 weeks to process.

The three largest areas of complaints involved career management which made up 39% of cases.

Bullying, harassment or discrimination made up 24% of complaints while the next biggest area was pay, pensions and allowances at 9%.

Ombudsman Hughes, said: “Whilst it is disappointing to find once more that the system is not efficient, effective or fair, I am positive about the improvements that have been made in 2022.

“The level of engagement from the services has been extremely encouraging and with renewed focus and commitment to driving forward recommendations, I am satisfied that real and lasting change is possible”.

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