Gender Parity in Armed Forces – UPSC GS1

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.
  • Count of women in the Indian army is significantly low i.e. 3% as compared to 6% in the US, 15% in France, and 10% in both Russia and the UK.
Current status of women in the Indian Army:
  • The first batch of women officers was introduced in nonmedical roles via the Short Service Commission in 1992.
  • Supreme Court allowed women to compete for the seats and subsequent permanent commission in the Indian army in any corps they desire.
  • Women were inducted as permanent commissioned officers in the legal and education corps since 2008 and as permanent commissioned officers in eight more non-combative corps in 2020.
  • But still, the count of women in the Indian army is significantly low i.e. 3% as compared to 6% in the US, 15% in France, and 10% in both Russia and the UK.
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.
How entry of women can help Army?
As more men gravitate towards the corporate world, entry of women can address the shortage of officers, which stands at 7476 officers as reported by the Minister of State for Defence.
 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.
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.