Maj. Martha McSally, the highest-ranking woman fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force and the 850 other women Air Force personnel stationed in Saudi Arabia are discriminated against every day when theyÑand not their male counterpartsÑare forced to adopt Saudi restrictions against women. American women stationed in Saudi Arabia work side by side with American men, protecting the U.S. interests in Saudi oil reserves, however when not in flight gear, whether they are on official Air Force business or not, women are required by U.S. Defense Department to follow the Islamic religious law that prohibits women from wearing Western clothing, from driving a car, or even from sitting in the front seat of an automobile.
In an interview with USA Today, Maj. McSally, the first woman to fly a fighter jet into enemy territory, discussed her frustration with the U.S. Department of Defense for requiring American women in the Air Force to follow Saudi Arabia dictates such as covering themselves from head to toe with black headdress and robes, while male Air Force personnel may wear Air Force uniforms or even jeans. While blending in with the Saudi community is important for protection against terrorist attacks directed at Americans, McSally noted that promoting American values and mutual respect for each other’s cultural differences is also part of America’s national security strategy abroad. McSally has been discussed her concerns with this U.S. policy behind closed doors for six years without success, and may risk her career by going public with her dissatisfaction. In the past, McSally has had success with changing U.S. policy regarding dress for women in the Air Force when, in the mid-1990s, she worked to change a policy requiring U.S. women military personnel stationed in Kuwait to wear pants and long sleeved shirts to allow women to wear shorts while on base.