2 May, 2019 — Penny Mordaunt, 46, today became the UK's first female defence secretary and the 10th European female defence minister. She was appointed after Gavin Williamson was sacked by Prime Minister Theresa May.

Penny Mordaunt

Penny Mordaunt

Mordaunt had already been considered a front runner for the post in 2017 when Michael Fallon had to leave, but Williamson got the job instead. Mordaunt, a staunch pro-Brexiter, was previously international development secretary and has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Portsmouth North since 2010.

She is a navy reservist (and revealed in her maiden speech to Parliament in June 2010 that she had been named Penelope by her paratrooper father and special-needs-teacher mother in honour of the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Penelope.) “I point out to my critics that HMS Penelope latterly became known as HMS Pepperpot because of her ability to endure massive amounts of shelling and reamin afloat and able to return fire,” she added.

Mordaunt served as an armed forces minister under David Cameron. Somewhat confusingly there are several ministers in the UK's Ministry of Defence. The Secretary of State for defence is the overall defence minister: that's the job that Mordaunt has just been given. Then there is the Minister of State for Defence (Earl Howe) who is not only the department spokesman in the House of Lords but has wide responsibilities ranging from relations with the EU to arms control. Then there is the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (currently Mark Lancaster) who is responsible for operations, recruitment and cyber amongst a host of other things. Then there is the Parliamentaery Under-Secretary of State for Defence People and Veterans (currently Tobias Ellwood) who is responsible for veterans, armed forces pay and pensions, welfare and service families etc. Finally there is the Minister for Defence Procurement (currently Stuart Andrew), whose job, for once, is self-explanatory!

Mordaunt studied philosophy at Reading University.

She joins an increasingly long list of female European defence ministers:

Dr Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen,Germany's first female defence minister has been in her job since 15 December 2013. Incidentally, she has 7 children!

Marina Pendeš has served as Bosnia and Herzegovina's defence minister since 31 March 2015.

Radmila Šekerinska in North Macedonia, was appointed to her job on 1 June 2017.

Florence Parly in France has held her post since 21 June 2017.

Olga Xhaçka in Albania has held her post since 11 September 2017

Anna “Ank”Bijleveld in the Netherlands has held her post since 26 October 2017.

Elisabetta Trenta in Italy has been Defence Minister since 1 June 2018.

Margarita Robles in Spain was appointed on 7 June 2018.

Vila Amherdhas been Switzerland's Defence minister since 1 January 2019


27 March, 2019 — Christine Chaulieu, who is portrayed on Wombat-womenincombat, will become France’s second female army major-general on 13 August 2019, 28 years after the first woman gained her three stars. That was Louise Coppolani on 1 August 1991.


7 March, 2019 — “Heroism has no sex and talent has no gender. It should be neither an advantage, nor a handicap to be a woman.” So French Secretary of State for the Armed Forces, Geneviève Darrieussecq, smartly summed up the aims of the gender equality plan, known in French as “plan mixité”, revealed today just prior to International Women's Day.

Nobody thinks it's easy for a woman to have a career in the armed forces,” said Florence Parly, Armed Forces Minister, at the press conference where she presented the plan together with Darrieussecq. “But gender equality is everybody's business so we must act together, be pragmatic and find the means, the tools to help women.” There were three objectives to her plan, she said. Firstly, to make young women want to sign-up. Secondly, to ensure that those who do, then stay. “We have a quicker, more significant rate of evaporation amongst women than men. So we must introduce some flexibility in our rules because it's up to us to adapt,” Parly remarked. And thirdly, to address the misgivings that potential female candidates may have by enhancing the image of women already in the armed forceThe plan, with its 22 concrete measures, is the result of eight months of work. The measures will benefit all ranks, men and women, and is coherent with their military status ,the operational objectives of the armed forces, and avoids positive discrimination or reintroducing quotas (banned in 1998).

The French armed forces are the fourth most feminised in the world (after Israel, Hungary and the United States) with 32,012 serving personnel representing 15.5% of the total. But just 6.7% of French generals are women. The Air Force has the highest number of women (22.5%), followed by the Navy (14%) and the Army (10%). But as Vice Admiral Stanislas de la Motte, Major general of the Navy, pointed out: “Of the 5,400 women in the navy, only 25% serve on ships even though 68 of our vessels now have a mixed crew.” And, he added, “there is a very net deficit in the numbers of women after 12 years of service because they find it difficult to conciliate their personal lives with their professional ones.” He said that by 2030 the Navy aimed to have 21% female personnel.

Air Marshal Alain Ferran, Human Resources director for the Air Force said that “the position of women is being asserted every year” and that in 2019 three air bases would be commanded by women, including the major air base 106 at Bordeaux-Mérignac.

Army Chief of Staff General Jean-Pierre Bosser said he thought the increasing role played by high technology would open up more roles for women in the army but stressed that the army had a “deliberate, if measured, strategy for recruiting more women but not at the cost of jeopardising our operational finality.

Every unit in every force is open to women, including submarines and the Foreign Legion. But as Bosser smiled: “we have no women in the Foreign Legion because none apply!” There has actually been one woman Foreign Legionnaire to date: Susan Travers (1909-2003), a British citizen, who distinguished herself in battle during the Second World War, notably in Africa. One of the unresolved discussions, held with the armies' health service and the national defence sports centre (CNSD), has been about the physical aptitude tests. “The assault course was designed when there were only men and so the height of the walls, for example, don't take account of smaller women, or even smaller men. Boys think that the sports tests should be the same for everyone but that's not the case in professional sports,” remarked Bosser.

Even if France ranks 4thfor the feminisation of its armed forces, the proportion of women has been stagnating since 2008 and there are few female officers who reach the highest echelons as they tend to leave the army eight years earlier than their male colleagues. “The entrance exams for the War College, which is mandatory for any senior officer, is aimed at personnel of a certain age. And that tends to coincide with the period at which many young women want to start a family. So, de facto, it excludes them,” Parly said. 

Amongst the 22 measures, six stand out:

  • To stop recruiting only those with a science background to become officers.

  • To ensure a better life/work balance and thus stop women from leaving altogether or turning to administrative and support jobs. 

  • To havevoluntary and experienced mentors to help with career management for all thosewho would like one. 

  • To ease the conditions for registering forexams, notably those to get intothe War College; allowing five years between the written and oral exams so that parental leave can be taken; taking account of experience outside the military (such as an MBA).

  • To introduce “gender equality” officers in every base and regiment

  • To have more women in senior ranks by ensuring that 10% at least of the 150-200 officers who get into the War College every year are women. The objective is that by 2022 10% of generals will be female and by 2025 that number is doubled. But as Parly said “it takes 30 years to make a general so it will take time to improve on these numbers.

Other, practical measures will be introduced to make day-to-day work easier, such as not scheduling meetings before 9 a.m. or after 6 p.m.; not organising seminars in the first two weeks of September just after school has started; and so on.

You can download the detailed list of measures (in French) here:



28 Nov. 2018 —General Alenka Ermenc has become the first chief of staff of a NATO armed force. She was appointed yesterday (27 November 2018) by the Slovenian government, just 11 days after being promoted to Major General and took up her post today.

Slovenia’s Major General Alenka Ermenc, the first female armed forces chief in a NATO country

Slovenia’s Major General Alenka Ermenc, the first female armed forces chief in a NATO country

“Major General Ermenc’s appointment was proposed based on her experience as a commander of Slovenian army units, for her contribution for establishing a professional army force and her civil and military education,” the government said in a statement.

Aged 55, Ermenc is a graduate of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University in Ljubljana where she obtained a Bachelor of Political Studies. She joined the Territorial Defence of the Republic of Slovenia in 1991, when Slovenia was fighting for independence from Yugoslavia. She was awarded the Bronze Medal of General Maister with Swords. 

In 2008, Ermenc graduated from the Royal College of Defence Studies in London where she stayed another year to obtain her Master’s degree in International Studies from King’s College, London. 

Promoted to brigadier in 2011, Ermenc has been serving as deputy chief of the general staff of the Slovenian armed forces since March, then the highest military position held by a woman in NATO

Edmondson appointed to U.S. Air Force Academy

17 Dec. 2018 — Brig. Gen. Michele Edmondson has been appointed as the U.S. Air Force Academy’s next commandant of cadets.

Brig. Gen. Michelle Edmondson

Brig. Gen. Michelle Edmondson

Edmondson is expected to arrive at the Academy in summer 2019 to take command of the Cadet Wing from Brig. Gen. Kristin Goodwin whose next post is director of Current Operations for the Air Force deputy chief of staff at the Pentagon.

As commandant, Edmondson will command the 4,000-member Cadet Wing and more than 200 Air Force and civilian personnel. Her responsibilities will include character and leadership development, military training, supervising cadet life activities, and providing facility and logistical support to all cadets.

Edmondson has a background in space operations and acquisitions, and will come to the Academy from the White House, where she directs the Space Policy, National Security Council. Before this, she commanded the 81st Training Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, where she led and provided technical training for 12,000 Airmen and civilians, Reservists and other Defense Department agencies, to create combat capabilities. 

She holds masters’ degrees in strategic studies, national security affairs and organizational management, and a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering. 

Edmondson was promoted to brigadier general in August.