By Ingrid Hipkiss
Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker is the first New Zealand woman killed in a combat zone since the Vietnam War.
Unlike its Australian counter-part, the Defence Force dropped gender discrimination and allowed women to serve on the frontline 12 years ago. The Chief of Defence says women have an increasingly important role to play in our military.
New Zealand nurse Sister Leslie Cowper was killed during the Vietnam War. She was the last New Zealand woman killed in a war zone.
But she was a civilian, working with a surgical team at a hospital, treating villagers injured in the conflict.
Jacinda Baker was part of the new military attitude to women. Twelve years ago barriers to New Zealand women serving on the frontline were removed and the Chief of Defence says women now play a vital role, particularly in Afghanistan.
“Having women there to be able to interact with children, with other women there in an Islamic society becomes quite important,” says Lieutenant General Rhys Jones. “So all of the Western militaries and even some of the non-Western have females engaged on the frontline.”
There are 11 New Zealand women serving Afghanistan and there's a female presence on most patrols, partly to spread the message of equality.
“Even within the Islamic constraints, we're not putting New Zealand Western values on it, but we're allowing them to develop and certainly encouraging the opportunities for women,” says Lt Gen Jones.
As a Reuters report shows, NATO is even training local Afghan women to take up arms and assist with culturally sensitive duties like searching other women.
Lt Gen Jones is proud that 16 percent of our Defence Force is women.
“So in any operational deployment we're going to have a sizeable amount of females in our operational areas. We consider that to be normal, routine and exactly where we want to be.”
But it's a stark contrast to Australia, where women were banned from combat until last year. The Government there says it will be four years before women are serving on the front-line.