Women serving in the Royal Australian Navy: the path towards equality 1960 to 2015

Reghenzani, Christine Anne (2016) Women serving in the Royal Australian Navy: the path towards equality 1960 to 2015. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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View at Publisher Website: https://doi.org/10.25903/5mwf-nf87


During my research project I analysed women's participation in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). Women's participation in the Navy workforce as uniformed members began in 1941 when 14 women commenced non-combatant duties in the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS). In 1988, Kathryn Spurling conducted a study of the WRANS covering the period 1939-1960. She found the women who served during the period suffered severe discrimination; the major factor being the societal view of women's work where the dominant definition of femininity and the role of women were in no way compatible with the attributes of seafaring and naval warfare.

The aim of my research was to identify what has changed for women serving in the RAN since 1960. Has workplace discrimination been replaced with equal employment opportunities? If so, what were the drivers of the change? I explored the answers to these questions by examining official documents, such as legislation, policies and practices, and combining them with the perspectives of Navy women. To discover the answers, I employed a joint disciplinary approach—women's studies and history. I chose a feminist methodology as it stresses the need to keep gender at the heart of the inquiry. As the military was a non-traditional area of employment for women prior to WWII and remains so, the interrelationships of gender and power are, I consider, critical to understanding women's participation in the Navy given that the Navy has been led by men for over a century.

My research revealed that wars in the twentieth century created opportunities for women to enter the labour market in unprecedented numbers. The five and a half decades from 1960 saw a transformation of women's role in the labour market and a progressive change to sex-role stereotyping in employment. As a result of legislative changes driven by feminist activism, women can now have careers and not just a job. During the period of the study, women's participation in the Navy rose by 15.8 per cent. However, the progress has not been without significant issues. When sea service opened to women, three women serving on the combatant HMAS Swan in 1992 made allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault. The inappropriate behaviour led to cultural reform within the Navy. Organisational strategies since then have been ongoing and have demonstrated that the Navy leadership has been committed to cultural change. Navy women now have equal employment opportunities and equal conditions of service. Nevertheless, these do not equate to equality of outcomes.

I conclude that although feminist activists and enlightened governments have transformed the values of present day Australian society, there are still remnants of a patriarchal society and misogynist behaviour. This resistance is slowly being removed as more and more people in Australian society become less tolerant of such behaviour. Inroads have been made towards gender employment equality over the past 55 years. Women in the Navy have demonstrated that gender is no barrier to accomplishing the mission. Today women command and serve in all classes on Australian Navy ships. However, while women now have the same opportunities as men, there remains an imbalance in the number of women serving. In 2010, women comprised 18.4 per cent of the Navy. This figure has only increased 0.4 per cent in the subsequent five years. If Navy is to meet their workforce targets in coming decades, recruiting and retaining women in the full spectrum of positions must remain one of their top priorities. A true indicator of equality will be a continuing increase in the number of women serving in the Navy, particularly in the senior leadership roles and across occupations.

Item ID: 46655
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: 20th century, 21st century, Australia, cultural change, equal employment opportunities, equal opportunities, equal rights, feminist methodology, gender roles, naval services, role of women, Royal Australian Navy, sex roles, social change, twentieth century, twenty first century, women in the military, women in the Navy, women's rights, Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS), women's work, workplace discrimination
Additional Information:

For this thesis, Christine Reghenzani received the Dean's Award for Excellence 2017.

Date Deposited: 13 Dec 2016 05:20
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology > 160899 Sociology not elsewhere classified @ 50%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1605 Policy and Administration > 160599 Policy and Administration not elsewhere classified @ 50%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950503 Understanding Australias Past @ 100%
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