Australia’s army chief has told a global audience that militaries that don’t become more inclusive, particularly by allowing women to serve on the front line, “do nothing to distinguish the soldier from the brute”.
Lieutenant General David Morrison was speaking at a London summit focused on ending rape in war zones.
He was invited to speak alongside British Foreign Secretary William Hague and US actor Angelina Jolie on the back of his 2013 video message telling sexist members of the armed forces to “get out”.
Lt Gen Morrison delivered the blunt warning to troops following yet another sex scandal. It became a YouTube hit with 1.5 million views.
In London on Friday he encouraged militaries around the world to open up all areas of service to women as a way of changing their culture and helping end sexual violence.
“It wipes away the barriers to achieving potential and sends a clarion call to all who serve that talent will prevail, not gender.”
He said some militaries were changing their culture in order to become more capable and that was cause for hope.
“Armies that revel in their separateness from civil society, that value the male over the female, that use their imposed values to exclude those who don’t fit the particular traits of the dominant group, who celebrate the violence that is integral to my profession rather than seeking ways to contain it – they do nothing to distinguish the soldier from the brute.”
Australian delegation head Natasha Stott Despoja said Lt Gen Morrison was a “bigger star” at the conference than Ms Jolie who is a UN special envoy.
“He had a powerful message,” Ms Stott Despoja told reporters.
“He reminded people, both in the symbolism of him standing up there in his uniform but also with his words, that the military have a key role to play in ending this awful, abhorrent, sexual violence in conflict.”
The former Democrats leader said the role of victims and survivors was “fundamental” in helping governments prevent future violence.
“We need to remove the stigma and the shame associated with what they’ve been through and move it onto the perpetrators,” Ms Stott Despoja said.
She was quizzed about Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers some of whom may have suffered sexual violence in warzones.
Canberra sends everyone arriving by boat to detention centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
“I’m always concerned about anyone who has experienced violence, and in particular sexual violence – whether that’s a man, a woman, a boy or a girl – ending in another institution be that a detention centre or elsewhere,” Ms Stott Despoja said.
More than 150 countries, including Australia, signed an action statement on Friday.
The summit also endorsed a new protocol relating to the investigation and documentation of sexual violence in conflict areas.
Lt Gen Morrison acknowledged he’d received some “notoriety” for making a stand against sexist behaviour in the military but insisted he wasn’t the star of the London summit.
That honour went to conference delegates who’d travelled from around the world to help end sexual violence, the army chief said.
Australia has lifted the restriction on women serving in combat roles with internal transfers opening in January 2013.
Women recruits will be able to apply direct for combat units from 2016.