Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, is calling for a military “cultural shift” to better support female troops.
“Since I joined the Armed Services Committee, I have become acutely aware of the lasting challenges women face in an institution historically dominated by men,” she wrote in an Army Times op-ed on Wednesday.
In particular, she said the Army had no policy on breastfeeding on the job, leaving women to the “mercy of superiors” as to where and when they could pump milk, or find sanitary places to do so.
She said one woman was told she “should be grateful” she was allowed to pump in the first place, and others said they were made to feel guilty, ostracized or like an inconvenience.
Tsongas said the testimonials from Army moms illustrate a larger problem — “a military environment where equality is not yet a reality.”
“With more women in the services than ever, and with that number growing, the Pentagon and Congress must closely examine how to ensure servicewomen receive the same quality resources and protections as their male counterparts,” Tsongas wrote.
She also said the military needs to address women’s health matters and develop equipment and policies to “increase safety and success” on the battlefield.
She said legislation she worked on led to the tripling of funding for the development of gender-specific body armor better tailored to a woman’s body.
Tsongas, who is co-chairwoman of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, also called for military leaders to be held accountable on sexual assault within their ranks, and demonstrate an ability to serve justice and appropriately support survivors.