LONDON: For more than 200 years a male bastion, the Brigade of Gurkhas of the British Army will now induct Nepalese women, with the first female recruits set to join the elite regiment in 2020.
The rigorous process of recruitment will begin in Pokhara in central Nepal next year and the successful applicants will be flown to Catterick, North Yorkshire, for a 10-week training programme.
The Nepalese regiment has been part of the British Army for more than 200 years, dating back to the British Raj, and has so far been the preserve of men.
Now, female cadets clearing rigorous physical tests such as racing 5km uphill carrying 25 kgs of sand in a wicker basket will be able to fight alongside the men.
The Gurkhas are renowned as one of the best fighting forces in the world with a proud history of serving Her Majesty (Queen Elizabeth II), and it is right that women have the opportunity to serve in this elite group, said UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.
Lt Gen Nick Pope, Deputy Chief of the General Staff and Colonel Commandant for the Brigade of Gurkhas, said the new policy was consistent with the UK government's broader decision to open all ground close combat roles to women" from 2016.
"There is a long tradition of Gurkhas and Commonwealth citizens serving in the British Army and we continue to value their significant contribution to protecting the UK at home and abroad, he said.
Britain began recruiting Gurkhas in 1815 during the Anglo-Nepal War.
Following the Partition of India in 1947, an agreement between Nepal, India and Britain meant four Gurkha regiments from the Indian Army were transferred to the British Army, eventually becoming the Brigade of Gurkhas.
At present, there are around 3,000 Gurkhas in the British Army, mostly in the infantry but also as engineers, logisticians or signals specialists. The new female recruits will form a new infantry battalion and new units of engineers and communications experts.
The regiment, which has the motto of "Better to die than be a coward, continues to carry into battle their traditional weapon a 46-cm-long curved knife, known as a 'khukri'.
Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, served with the 1st Battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles during his tour of Afghanistan in 2007-08 and said "when you know you're with the Gurkhas, there's no safer place to be".
A campaign by British actress Joanna Lumley in 2009 had resulted in Gurkha veterans being granted the right to UK citizenship.