Langevin, Hostettler, Wilson, and Martha McSally Press House to End Gender Discrimination in U.S. Military

May 14, 2002
(Washington, D.C.)–Congressmen Jim Langevin (D-RI) and John Hostettler (R-IN), Congresswoman Heather Wilson (R-NM) and Air Force Lt. Col. Martha McSally today urged the U.S. House of Representatives to pass legislation that would ban the Pentagon's practice of requiring or strongly encouraging U.S. servicewomen to wear abayas while serving in Saudi Arabia.

The Langevin/Hostettler legislation prohibits the military from requiring or strongly encouraging servicewomen in Saudi Arabia to wear abayas.  The amendment would also provide for education to Armed Forces members ordered to duty in Saudi Arabia on these prohibitions and would block the military from making regular procurements of abayas.  

 “Today, I call upon my House colleagues to show the same courage as Martha McSally and pass this bill to end gender discrimination for our service people serving in Saudi Arabia,” said Congressman Langevin, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. "Women make first-class soldiers and should not be treated like second-class citizens.”

 "Present Department of Defense policy of ‘strongly encouraging’ our female military personnel to wear the abaya sounds like a direct order to me,” said Congressman John Hostettler, also a member of the House Armed Services Committee.  “Our servicemen are not required to grow beards or alter their dress when they travel off base.  It’s disturbing that our female military personnel are treated like second-class citizens while stationed on soil they’re defending from Iraqi aggression.”

"The Department of Defense policy should never have been implemented and the revised policy to 'strongly encourage' servicewomen to wear the abaya is unsatisfactory," said Congresswoman Heather Wilson (R-NM).  "American servicewomen should not be ordered to wear Muslim dress.  There is no military justification compelling them to do so.  In fact, this policy is a violation of the First Amendment rights guaranteed by our constitution." 

The government of Saudi Arabia does not require non-Muslim women to wear abayas, and the State Department does not require nor strongly encourage its female embassy employees or tourists to wear abayas.  Neither former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright nor Mrs. Cheney wore the abaya during their visits to Saudi Arabia.

Langevin began pushing for a ban on the abaya requirement after learning of Lt. Col. Martha McSally’s 7-year struggle to end the Pentagon-ordered policy.  McSally, a Rhode Islander who was raised in Langevin’s home town, is the first female U.S. service member to fly in combat.  She was formerly stationed in Saudi Arabia, where she was forced to wear the abaya and travel in the rear seats of vehicles, in accordance with local custom.