Designers of women-specific sporting gear and apparel often lament that the short-cut many manufacturers take is to just "shrink it and pink it." In other words, reduce the sizing of men's products and then add pink colors to attract women buyers.
But for female soldiers, women-specific body armor is not just a want, it's a need. Because women soldiers are curvier and shorter than their male counterparts, the body armor they are issued sits too high on the neck and does not accommodate their breasts.
Though the military still bans women soldiers from engaging in direct combat, they are increasingly in harm's way, especially as the nature of war changes and troops are more often injured and killed by roadside bombs. In fact, as of last year, most of the female soldiers who've died in Afghanistan were in "combat situations."
Ill-fitting body armor makes them even more vulnerable, reports The Christian Science Monitor. It interviewed a solider named Natasha Young, who was deployed to Iraq in 2007, where she drive supply trucks in Anbar Province. "There were larger gaps on the side because we had breasts," she told the paper, describing how the armor fit her and her fellow female soldiers. "So we had to loosen it up on the sides, which created more exposure."
Of the military's 1.4 million active duty troops, 14 percent are women, according to the newspaper. By 2025, that figure is expected to grow to one quarter of the force.
But hopefully those millions of women soldiers will soon be better protected, because the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act passed by the House Armed Services Committee directs the Pentagon for the first time to develop body armor specifically for female soldiers. Also, makers of armor that is commercially available might begin incorporation women-specific designs into their products, as more and more female soldiers look for improved armor outside the military-issue stock.
Image: Joan of Arc, via Fotopedia, Creative Commons 2.0