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What's happening with women and draft registration ("Selective Service")?

Take action with CODEPINK women against war: Tell Congress to end draft registration

Congress is now considering legislation to expand the requirement to register with the Selective Service Syatem for a possible military draft to include young women as well as young men. This proposal has been endorsed by President Biden and is included in this year’s “defense” bill. Women born in 2005 or after will probably be required to register for the draft as they turn 18, starting in 2023.

Women have played key roles in resistance to military conscription, even when only men were being drafted. There’s a long tradition of anti-war and anti-draft feminism. (See this sampler of feminist statements against a draft of men or women.)

Trying to salvage draft registration by expanding it to young women as well as young men would mean doubling down on decades of failure of draft registration in the face of widespread noncompliance. Since 1980, all male U.S. residents have been supposed to register with the Selective Service System when they turn 18, and notify Selective Service every time they change their address until their 26th birthday. But few young men have ever complied fully with this law.

Almost nobody tells the Selective Service System when they move. Most draft notices sent to the addresses in Selective Service records would either be undeliverable or would go to draftees’ parents, many of whom would refuse to accept these induction orders or tear them up to protect their children.

Only 20 people have been prosecuted for refusing to register since 1980. Show trials of activists called attention to the resistance and showed that those who quietly ignored registration could not be prosecuted. The government abandoned criminal enforcement of draft registration in 1988. Resistance made registration unenforceable, and made the registration list useless for a fair or inclusive draft.

Both feminist and anti-feminist women will be even more likely to oppose and resist being forced into the military than men have been, and more people will support them in their resistance.

Members of Congress need to hear from anti-war and anti-draft feminists and from young people who oppose forcing anyone into the military. Any draft serves war, militarism, and patriarchy, and enhances the ability of the U.S. to fight unlimited, endless wars in more places around the world. They need to hear from the resistance: women who will resist signing up to go anywhere and fight and kill (or be killed by) anyone the Commander-In-Chief orders them to consider his enemies. They need to hear from allies, men and women, young and old, who will support those who resist.

The choice is not between continuing male-only draft registration (which is likely to be found unconstitutional) and expanding registration to women. The real choice is whether to expand draft registration to women or to end it entirely. This is a choice about militarism, not a choice about gender equality. Expanding draft registration to women would bring about a semblance of equality in war (although women in the military would likely still be subject to disproportionate sexual harassment and abuse). Ending draft registration would bring about real equality in peace and freedom.

Instead of arguing the merits of doubling the number of young Americans forced to register for an arcane and unconstitutional military draft, we should abolish — not expand — the draft. Every year millions of young Americans are subjected to an unjust policy that violates their civil liberties for so-called “military preparedness.” Those who fail to register can face lifelong, severe penalties, which disproportionately affect low-income Americans. For decades, the Department of Defense and Administrations of both parties have agreed the draft is unnecessary and obsolete. No young person, regardless of gender, should be subject to or forced to register for a draft. That’s why I’m reintroducing my legislation to abolish the military draft.

[Rep. Peter DeFazio, 22 March 2021]

(PDF version of this page for printing as a 2-sided single-sheet leaflet)

What do feminists say about the draft and draft registration?

More about women, the draft, and draft registration

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This page most recently modified 6 October 2021. This site is maintained by Edward Hasbrouck. Corrections, contributions (articles, graphics, photos, videos, links, etc.), and feedback are welcomed.