Opportunities for women in the armed forces have been transformed over the last 30 years, a veteran reservist has reflected.
Speaking on International Women’s Day, Linda Robinson, a warrant officer in the Maritime Reserves in Northern Ireland. said she has seen huge changes since the start of her military career in 1996.
A major turning point came in 2018 when women became able to apply to serve in any role in the UK armed forces.
WO1 Robinson, who is aged in her 50s and based at HMS Hibernia in Lisburn, Co Antrim, said it is very different to when she joined.
“There are so many more opportunities for me to participate in and the equality of opportunities continues to grow,” she said.
“International Women’s Day is a very important day for women across the world. It’s an opportunity to take a moment to look back and see how far the women’s movement has come in terms of the equality of opportunities and indeed to continue with that drive for the future.”
The Co Antrim woman said it is challenging to balance her full-time civilian job with her part-time service.
“The juggling and the challenge to make sure that I contribute to the Maritime Reserve, contribute to my full time work and of course a home life is the challenge,” she said.
“But the opportunities that have been presented to me, to travel the world, to learn new skills and develop my leadership skills which has in turn enabled me to be promoted in my civilian job. And that has been the most rewarding piece.”
Mary B O’Neill is the senior nursing officer with 502 Ulster Squadron in the RAF and has been a reservist for 20 years, alongside her civilian job in the health service.
She joined the reserves at the age of 42 and described it as “challenging” and a “whole new world” but said those challenges turned into positives.
“I always had this fear of perhaps not achieving, but the RAF nurtured me and looked after me and they got the best out of me” she said.
“One of the most rewarding things on a personal level has been my six grandchildren thinking I am the coolest granny ever because I am in the RAF.
“International Women’s Day is about acknowledging women all over the world, the bravery of women. It’s not just about those who have achieved but those who are struggling to achieve.”
Corporal Natalie Bowman. 39, from Co Armagh has been serving for eight years with 2 Royal Irish.
She describing finding the fitness training the most challenging part of the job, but after some work over the years she says she is now fitter and stronger.
“For me, International Women’s Day is about highlighting and reminding people that we’re equal to men,” she said.
Private Lucy Summerville. 21, from Co Tyrone has been serving for 16 months with 2 Royal Irish.
She said she has found being a woman in the armed forces no different to being a man.
“We all get the same opportunities, you get to go on the same courses, the training is the same, the fitness testing is the same and the pay is the same,” she said.