Women in armed forces

Fresh look

SP's MAI - - FRONT PAGE - [ By Air Mar­shal (Retd) Anil Cho­pra]

On the In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day on March 8, TV chan­nels were back to the de­bate on com­bat role for women in the armed forces. As a fa­ther of two suc­cess­ful work­ing girls and till very re­cently the head of Hu­man Re­source De­part­ment of the In­dian Air Force (IAF), it is time for me to en­ter the de­bate.


Women were first in­ducted into In­dian armed forces in 1992 mostly in Short Ser­vice Com­mis­sion (SSC). To­day there are 1,214 (3.3 per cent) in the Army, 410 (3.9 per cent) in the Navy and 1,138 (10.4 per cent) in the In­dian Air Force (IAF). Com­pare this with Is­rael 33 per cent, France 19 per cent, USA 14.6 per cent, Aus­tralia 13 per cent, Canada 12 per cent, Bri­tain 9 per cent, Rus­sia 10 per cent, Ger­many (7 per cent), China (7.5 per cent), and Pak­istan (1 per cent).

Per­ma­nent com­mis­sion (PC) for women has been cleared in le­gal and ed­u­ca­tion branch in all three ser­vices. In­duc­tion of women in the Army is per­mit­ted in EME, Sig­nals, Engi­neers, Ord­nance, In­tel­li­gence and Ser­vice Corps. In the In­dian Navy, women are not al­lowed in the Sub­mariners and Divers branches and in the IAF, ex­cept the fighter stream, all branches are open to women.

Is­rael has had women in uni­form since the coun­try’s for­ma­tion in 1948 due to the in­tense threat en­vi­ron­ment and small pop­u­la­tion. For first 25 years, women were em­ployed in the HR and Ad­min­is­tra­tive branches of the Is­raeli armed forces and now 3 per cent are in com­bat di­vi­sions.

The 4,000-odd women in Pak­istan armed forces are mostly doc­tors and nurses and some in the Ed­u­ca­tion Corps. Pak­istan cleared women pi­lots in 2006 and the first four fighter pi­lots were com­mis­sioned in 2009. The US em­ployed nearly 40,000 women in Iraq of which only two were taken pris­on­ers in Op­er­a­tion Desert Storm and three in Op­er­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom be­cause they were mostly em­ployed in com­bat sup­port tasks. Sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of women sus­tained in­juries in Afghanistan do­ing non­com­bat tasks.

In China, women serve mostly in mil­i­tary sup­port roles. In 2009, the first batch of women fighter pi­lots was com­mis­sioned into the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army Air Force.

An Is­raeli Mil­i­tary report in­di­cates that fe­male com­bat­ants dis­play higher lev­els of alert­ness, are more knowl­edge­able about the use of weapons and have bet­ter shoot­ing abil­i­ties than men.

En­hanced In­duc­tion Logic

Jhansi ki Rani and Razia Sul­tan were great com­bat lead­ers. The women cadre of LTTE and Naxal groups en­gage in com­bat. On the flip side, men also take sick leave, fur­lough and study leave and are miss­ing from duty for months and years, so what if a women goes through a few preg­nan­cies.

In the In­dian armed forces there is an acute short­age of of­fi­cers and this short­age can be made up at least par­tially through in­duc­tion of highly mo­ti­vated and com­pe­tent women of­fi­cers. Since the po­lice, BSF and CRPF have women bat­tal­ions why not the In­dian armed forces.

Counter Ar­gu­ments

Stud­ies have in­di­cated that women have 45 to 50 per cent less up­per body strength and are more prone to frac­tures and bone in­juries. Presently phys­i­cal stan­dards stip­u­lated for women are lower than for men. Also there are is­sues of ac­cept­abil­ity of women within the Army in view of a mind­set that is likely to take time to change.

Most women of­fi­cers choose to marry within the ser­vice for easy col­lo­ca­tion, a prac­tice that has im­pli­ca­tions for cadre man­age­ment. Then there are is­sues of night duty and ma­ter­nity leave and child care leave (cu­mu­la­tively about 3½ years) and the sys­tem needs to ad­dress the ab­sence. The per­cent­age of women in com­bat the world over is still in­signif­i­cant, so why the rush?

The Way For­ward

Best summed up by the fa­ther of the na­tion, “To call woman the weaker sex is a li­bel; it is man’s in­jus­tice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, in­deed, woman is less brute than man. If by strength is meant mo­ral power, then woman is im­mea­sur­ably man’s su­pe­rior. Has she not greater in­tu­ition, is she not more self­sac­ri­fic­ing, has she not greater pow­ers of en­durance, has she not greater courage?” With women con­sti­tut­ing 46 per cent of In­dia’s pop­u­la­tion, they do de­serve a bet­ter share and the Par­lia­ment must first set an ex­am­ple by leg­is­lat­ing 33 per cent reser­va­tion for women.

Slow but steady change is what all have adopted and the In­dian armed forces must do the same. Ser­vices should open PC to 5 per cent women to be­gin with. Se­lect women top­pers at SSC for 14 years’ ser­vice and in­crease the over­all cadre strength to cater for ab­sence. To be­gin with train about 10 fighter pi­lots and then re­view the same in five years. A prac­ti­cal cap in per­cent­age of women, com­pa­ra­ble to mod­ern coun­tries at around 12 per cent should be put and re­viewed ev­ery 10 years. The is­sue of com­mand of com­bat units may be vis­ited 10 years hence, af­ter more roles are as­signed to women.

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