Gender Parity in Armed Forces

Facts:

  • Countries that allow women in Close combat: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, North Korea etc.
  • Countries in which women allowed in combat, not necessarily close combat: USA, UK, Pakistan, South Korea etc.

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Background:

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his addresses to the nation on occasion of 72nd Independence Day from Red Fort announced that permanent commission will be granted to serving women officers of armed forces.
  • Until now, women could qualify only for short service commission with a tenure of 14 years; this made them ineligible for pension and often unable to find other work virtually midway through their working lives.
  • Indian Navy & Airforce had already granted permanent commission to women following a Delhi high court order of 2010

Significance of PM announcement:

  • The announcement comes after Government had told Supreme Court (in May 2018) that it was considering granting PC to SSC women Army officers.
  • Granting PC to women officers will change their career paths, besides provide full-length career opportunity for women aspirants in the future.
  • PC to women officers will also give them same option as male officers and they can theoretically achieve higher ranks like Colonels, Brigadiers, Major Generals and Lieutenant Generals in Indian Army.
  • Note: Granting PC to women officers will not change the status quo in their induction in combat branches of Indian Army like Infantry, Armoured Corps, Mechanised Infantry, Army Aviation Corps and Artillery b as women are so far not inducted in direct combat roles. Most of senior operational commanders in Army are from these combat arms branches, so women officers are less likely to get higher seniority posts.

Current status in Navy and Air Force:

  • Unlike Indian Army, IAF and Indian Navy have opened up select combat roles for women.
  • IAF has allowed entry of women as officers in both flying and ground duties. In IAF, women SSC officers are now commissioned even as fighter pilots, as helicopter and transport pilots.
  • They are also commissioned by IAF in legal, education and intelligence branches. In Navy, women officers are inducted through SSC in Logistics, Law, Air Traffic Control (ATC), Observers, Pilots (Maritime Reconnaissance Stream), Naval Armament Inspectorate Cadre (NAIC), Naval Architecture and Education Branch.

 Key arguments for not inducting women in front line were:

  • Fear of women being taken PoW
  • Physically demanding nature of these jobs
  • Lower muscle mass, relatively less strength
  • Concerns like maternity, ability to withstand G-force, fear of molestation esp PoW.

Women Army officers are still denied permanent commission at par with men. Analyse the reasons behind it. How far patriarchal and macho mindset is responsible for such discrimination? (200 Words)

The recent affidavit filed by the Indian Army in the Supreme court expresses discouragement to appointing women officers in permanent commission. This is a retrogressive move and reiterates the patriarchal mindset in the Indian society.

‘War has no runners-up, hence the need for an efficient war machine that will ensure victory,’ it said. This move not only denies equality to women but also makes them ―lesser citizens of India as they are not being a the same rights as men. The reasons cited by the Indian Army include:

  1. The bulk of the army’s junior commissioned officers (JCOs) and other ranks, who hail from rural India, are not yet ready to accept a woman as their leader in combat situations.
  2. Beyond the SSC, in permanent commission tenure women could be exposed to hostile environments, also the unique nature of responsibility and organisational requirement.
  3. The attendant hazard and trauma, possibility of being made a prisoner of war

These reasons appear farce and reflect a patriarchal mindset because :

  1. Rank v/s gender: commands are attached to the ―rank or position of a system, may it be judiciary, administration, legislature or military. And not to the gender of the individual. If this would have been so, India would never have had a successful women prime minister or president.
     
  2. Ability v/s gender : As long as an individual is qualified for a position, the gender is arbitrary.
     
  3. Unique requirements: During the 14-year short service commission tenure they now enjoy, women officers in various corps are assigned duties similar to those of men officers without distinction, to all possible field units with men officers. So the unique requirements in permanent commission smacks of gender discrimination.
     
  4. Technology and gender: In modern high technology battlefield, technical expertise and decision making skills are increasingly more valuable than simple brute strength.
     
  5. Other countries like Canada, Israel, New Zealand etc. have placed women on par with men in the military
     
  6. The ruling of the Delhi high court 2010, in favour of appointing women.

In the light of the fact that the Indian army is facing an acute shortage of officers, do you think more women should be recruited to the forces? Examine the challenges and prospects of such a move. (200 Words)

The Indian armed forces have been facing an acute shortage of officers. Due to attractive jobs with better salaries in private sector young and mid-level career officers are moving to private sector, and the situation has worsened since 1990s. Economic reforms have widened the pay, lifestyle and social prestige gap between the armed forces and the private sector. Lack of officers mean that existing officers are overburdened. This has huge strategic implications when the army is involved in fighting insurgency in large parts of the country as well as training for its primary mission of defending the country from external forces. While women were allowed to join the armed forces in 1992, they could only join as Short Service Commission (SSC) officers able to serve for a maximum of 14 years and that too only in non-combat arms like Army education corps, Engineers, Signals etc. While recently women have been granted permanent commissions, the ban on service in combat units continues.

Prospects:

  1. The women already serving non-combat position were found to be serving their duty with integrity as compared to men.
  2. Women In India reflected the struggling ethos and has been part of Indian freedom struggle in form of Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi ,Rani Gadinlieu of Assam. So they hold prospects in future as well.
  3. Further It would be significant boost to women empowerment and has spillover effect to general level of literacy, Health ,Employment of women in defence sector as well as other sector.
  4. Increased number of women in the armed forces will reduce the incidents of sexual abuses and human right violation at the hands of army men while maintaining national security. More women in army will help in bringing more gender sensitivity among the armed forces

Challenges:

  1. India is largely a patriarchal society with a traditional mindset. Thus, the men might not be very comfortable being commanded by women in the field.
  2. It is a biological fact that on average women are weaker than men. In combat units, which are necessarily intensely physical, any perceived weakness would lead to loss of respect of the subordinates. Which would make the task of women officers that much harder.
  3. The risk of getting captured as Prisoners of War (PoW’s) is highest for combat units. A women PoW could be a psychological blow.
  4. Due to biological differences, women need long mid-career breaks as maternity leave. Not only does this disrupt training, but also puts restrictions on the type of physical work that they can do before and after the leave. This would be a major challenge for combat roles.

The task before defence establishment is huge and is critical. Women regiments can be started on pilot basis and the results can be used to address the issues leading to regular induction of women in army, navy as well as air force. Like in other spheres, here also the bias against will disappear, sooner or later.

APPLICATION: Women essay, women empowerment, Role of judiciary in ensuring social justice.