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Guns and Glory for Women

“Throughout my career I found that we want the best and the brightest on our team, whether you’re male or female. When you can run faster than the guys, when you can do more push-ups, they don’t look at you and say, “Oh, we don’t want you on our team.” They go, “Wow”

                                                                                       - Ann Dunwoody

 

Through the course of history, women have always been the disadvantaged and disenfranchised members of society. However, there have also been examples throughout the world where women have broken societal norms to cement a place for their legacy. From the discovery of radioactive materials by Marie Curie, to Margaret Hamilton, the woman who wrote the source code for the Apollo 11 Mission, there is no field where women cannot perform at the same levels as men. The case is no different for the military.

The world is littered with examples of women who have broken norms set by previous generations to rise to positions which were previously dominated by women. Within the military, personalities such as Ann Dunwoody, the first 4-Star General of the US are examples of women who took the opportunities given to them to rise to, in this case, create history. 

Outside the military, the world has witnessed many women leaders who have led their countries through times both thick and thin. Margaret Thatcher, Britain's first female Prime Minister, India's first woman Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir, Israel's first female Prime Minister, have all led their respective countries through highly adverse situations. Under their respective leaderships, they proved that women are also capable of making tough decisions to achieve a peaceful future. 

However, despite the many accomplishments of women in all fields of the arts, humanities, sciences and politics, women have, in many countries, been denied the same level of freedom of choice when it comes to choosing their career paths. For example, in India, despite personalities like Astronaut Kalpana Chawla making a mark for Indian women in the final frontier of Space, women have been denied the opportunity to enlist in the military and thus serve their country, side-by-side with men.

The Indian Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force), which for long was considered a male dominated workplace, now has confident, bold women, molding into every role and setting examples for everyone. The introduction of female officers to the Indian Army was approved in 1992 by the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs as short service commission cadre. The initial terms of engagement was five years, which over the period was extended and presently is 10 years with option of extension by another four years (10+4) except for AEC and JAG. Those not selected for Permanent Commission have the option of a 4 years extension after completion of 10 years. They can resign at any time during this period.[1] By information given in Parliament as on early 2017, there are 3,578 women officers in the three services. This broadly represents about 3.64% in the Army, 4.49% in the Navy and 13% in the IAF. Besides, about 5,000 Military Nursing Service members are also in uniform[2]. In the past few years, it has been rather unfortunate that the Armed forces have been dogged by controversies regarding grant of permanent commission to women officers and permitting them to command certain units. While surely as enshrined in the constitution, women enjoy right to equal employment opportunities, however the exigencies of military Service restrain their employment across the spectrum. Notwithstanding, in a graduated manner with improvement in infrastructure and better communication facilities, additional appointments in both combat and non combat units can be tenanted by women. [3] However in 2008, permanent commission was granted to women in Army Education Corps(AEC) and Judge Advocate General ( JAG) dept. In 2015 India opened new combat air force roles for women as fighter pilots, adding to their role as helicopter pilots in the Indian Air Force on a three-year experimental basis. [4] In 2016, President Pranab Mukherjee stated that “India will allow women to take up combat roles in all sections of its army, navy and air force”. [5] A statement was made by the Chief of the Army Staff during the passing-out parade ceremony held in Dehradun on 10 June, 2017, “Firstly, we will start with women in military police jawans, will take next after success”. On 8 September 2017, the Army has finalized a plan to induct 800 women in the military police with a yearly intake of 52 personnel, seen as a major move towards breaking gender barriers in the force.[6] The role of the military police includes policing cantonments and army establishments, preventing breach of rules and regulations by soldiers, maintaining movement of soldiers as well as logistics during peace and war, handling prisoners of war and extending aid to civil police whenever required. [7]

Women in combat role

Only a handful of countries, including Germany, Australia, Canada, the US, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Norway, Sweden and Israel, have allowed women in combat roles. General Bipin Rawat has said that unless there is a change of mindset in society, both genders would not be able to work together in forward areas.[8] There are roughly a dozen nations that have opened "close combat roles" to women; however, it has taken them three to ten years to go through the process, of integration.[9] The Army cannot compromise on its physical standards. Hence, the roles that have specific requirement of physical fitness can be assigned to women once they are trained and found fit / suitable for the role. This includes the combat support and light combat roles including the Artillery, Infantry and Armoured. The doors to direct combat role can’t remain closed to women for long. Thus, in the Indian context, induction of women in combat arms can be considered in a graduated manner, provided they meet the desired physical and professional standards. India, which has one of the largest armies in the world, has  always resisted following suit, citing concern over women’s vulnerability if captured and over their physical and mental ability to cope with the stress of frontline deployments. Though the role of the military police is not a combat one, still it can be taken as “breaking of the glass ceiling” because bringing real gender parity into the armed forces would be a slow process. The doors to direct combat role would be very gradual. The decision to call the women for combat role is also boosting the morale of the women

Permanent Commission

Over the past three years, with the government’s focus on women’s empowerment, the three services have taken some steps for expanding the avenues for women, but several issues still remain.. While the issue of women in combat roles gets traction often, another aspect mostly neglected is the issue of permanent commission.[10] As long as the women officers are denied the choice of a Permanent Commission, their service in the Army will remain merely a job and never a dedicated career option. With a limited service span and the restrictions placed on their employability, women have a double disadvantage of prejudicial policy, which even if they overcome, they do not have the experience necessary to attain higher ranks. Since, women are not employed in any mainstream military roles, they miss out on important rungs on the ladder of experience, which are crucial for a Command, and therefore, have no representation at the decision- making levels. Also, having no option to continue in the Army after giving the best years of one’s life is a highly stressful experience and often leads to periods of grave depression. Women officers, once they complete their tenure of service, have to cope with a sudden loss of status, occupation and remuneration all in one sweep. At the end of their short-service tenure, women officers are not eligible for any pensioner’s benefits either, and so, they lose out on economic gains as well. The graph of their satisfaction swings between highs and lows between the time of commissioning and the time of their release from service.[11]

 

 

 

Conclusion

As UK Defense Secretary Mr. Michael Fallon said: "Roles in our Armed Forces should be determined by ability not gender. [12]The women have created a strong niche for themselves wherever given an opportunity to prove their worth. The requirement is to improve the way we conduct our training. If suitably trained, women can be made fit to perform their assigned tasks”. Assigning women in the whole range of military jobs is required for equal opportunities in the Military Services, and, with proper training, women will demonstrate that they are capable of performing most military jobs.[13]

 

 

[1] WOMEN IN THE INDIAN ARMY: SHOULD THEIR RECRUITMENT BE EXPANDED?: MAJOR GAURISHTHA (RETIRED)1 & SHRUTI SINGH2

[4] Supranote1

 

[6] With New Defence Minister, Army To Induct 800 Women In Military Police: http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/army-finalises-plan-to-induct-800-women-in-military-police-1747944

 

[8] No frontier role for women till society changes: General Bipin Rawat:

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/56528278.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cpps

[9] Supranote3

 

[11] Supranote6

[13] Supranote6 

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Anushree Dutta
Research Assistant
Contact at: [email protected]

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