Women in armed forces
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.
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.