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Britain’s armed forces need a “fundamental cultural shift” to tackle the bullying and harassment of women in the services, the head of the military has said.
General Sir Nick Carter, the Chief of the Defence Staff, said that the levels of abuse suffered by women in the military were “truly shocking”.
At the same time, giving evidence to the Commons Defence Committee, he acknowledged the forces encouraged a “laddish culture” as they needed soldiers who were prepared to get “close and personal” with the enemy.
His appearance came after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace summoned senior commanders on the Army Board for a “full and frank” discussion on the treatment of women in the service.
Gen Carter, who stands down at the end of the month, was questioned about a recent report by the defence sub-committee which found 58% of women serving in the forces and 68% of female veterans had experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination during their careers.
He said the issue needed to be tackled while at the same time maintaining the fighting spirit of the services.
“Part of the reason that we encourage a laddish culture is that ultimately our soldiers have to go close and personal with the enemy. What you have got to try and do is to square both these outputs,” he said.
“What one has to do is one has to get people who are building these teams to understand that the team will be a better team if it is more diverse and more inclusive and therefore women and ethnic minorities and all the rest of it are part of the equation.
“There is a fundamental cultural shift that needs to been made there. The chiefs of staff committee get this.
“The trick is how you cascade that level of commitment down through the layers of the chain of command to get people to get people right down at the face of what we are talking about to understand that this is totally unacceptable.
“How we fix it I think we have a sense of, but we are going to have to keep going at it hard.”