Israel began including women in combat units after 1995, when a 23-year-old South African immigrant who arrived with a pilot's license from her native country was denied entry into the Air Force and successfully sued for discrimination. Since then, the Israel Defense Forces has gradually integrated more units in compliance with a Supreme Court order.
All told, only 12 percent of military positions in Israel are off-limits to women, including combat positions in the armored corps and infantry. But women can service in light infantry, artillery, and border patrol roles. More and more positions have been opened over time, though there are also reports that the IDF often doesn't accept women for units for which they are eligible and evacuates women during combat situations. Women comprise only 33 percent of the IDF due to a shorter length of service and a more lenient discharge system for religiously observant Jewish women. Recent years have seen the creation of the "Caracal Batallion" a mixed-gender infantry unit that patrols near the southern border with Egypt and the first woman commanding a sniper platoon.
Even in countries with no restrictions, women's participation in combat units is relatively rare. For instance, in Canada, which has had no restrictions since 1989, 17 percent of troops are women but women make up only 3.8 percent of combat troops. Although not excluded by law, no women have yet qualified for Canada's elite anti-terrorist unit, which requires an extremely high degree of physical fitness.
The Afghanistan war has been something of a testing ground for women in combat, with coalition members including Canada, Germany, Poland, and Sweden deploying women in frontline units for the first time. No significant problems were reported in the British survey, and some militaries found that women officers were more effective at some tasks, such as gathering intelligence from female civilians.
Among the world's most powerful armies, the United States is actually comparatively progressive. The Chinese military, the world's largest by number of troops, allows women only in support positions, and has been criticized for requiring female recruits to demonstrate a talent such as singing or dancing as part of its selection process (in case you were wondering where those pink-clad, go-go-booted marchers in Beijing's military parades came from). The Indian Army has only a handful of women in support roles and doesn't allow them to hold permanent commissions.
Russia has a long history of fighting women, including the "women's death battalion" during the 1917 revolution and Lyudmila Pavlichenko, one of the most successful snipers of World War II, but today, women are not subject to the country's draft. Women volunteers do comprise about 3 percent of the Russian army, mostly in support and clerical positions, though the annual Miss Russian Army beauty pageant is not exactly a sign of respect for their role.
Unfortunately, no matter what a country's policies on the roles women can play in the military, one constant from Canada to the United States, Australia to Sweden, is the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault at military facilities. While female soldiers around the world increasingly brave the same dangers as their male counterparts, they still face a unique set of risks from their own fellow soldiers.