The Armed Forces have an exemption from the Equality Act 2010 for reasons of combat effectiveness and there are restrictions on women serving in close-combat roles.
The principal roles closed to women are: the Royal Marines General Service, the Household Cavalry and Royal Armoured Corps, the Infantry and Royal Air Force Regiment. Figures compiled in the 2006 (soon to be revised) review show that the proportion of posts in the Armed Forces open to women was 71% in the Naval Service, 67% in the Army and 96% in the Royal Air Force.
Between 2000 and 2013 the percentage of females in the UK Regular Forces increased from 8.0% to 9.7%. At 1 April 2013 females accounted for 12.6% of Officers and 9.1% of Other Ranks. The RAF has always had the highest proportion of female personnel (currently 13.9%), followed by the Naval Service (currently 9.0%) and the Army (currently 8.4%). There are no specific policy explanations for the difference, although the proportion of posts in each Service open to women may contribute to the difference. The long term trend in all three Services is for gradual increases in the proportion of personnel who are female.
The Naval Service, however, has recently shown signs of a change in this trend. Since 2010, although the percentage of female Naval Service Officers has increased by 0.2% points, the percentage of female Naval Service Other Ranks has fallen from 9.6% in 2010 to 8.8% in 2013. This has led, since 2010, to a decrease in the percentage of females in the Naval Service. One reason for this could be that whilst the Royal Navy has reduced in size by 14.5%, the Royal Marines, with predominantly male roles, has only reduced by 3.8%.
DASA (Defence Analytical and Statistical Agency) (2013) Tri-Service Bulletin 2013. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.dasa.mod.uk/publications/personnel/military/tri-service-personnel-bulletin/2013/2013.pdf. [Accessed: 19 October, 2013].