Role and Employment of Women in the Indian Armed Forces
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Published: Wed, 07 Mar 2018
“The highest national priority must be the unleashing of woman power in governance. That is the single most important source of societal energy that we have kept corked for half a century”.
-Mani Shankar Aiyar
1. It is the society that is the feeder to any organization within its realm and the same is seen through its functioning & projection. Traditionally, men were the warriors & the women housekeepers, the roles were well demarcated. Changes over the period have merged this distinguished line of specific gender task distribution and has managed to put a wedge into the male dominated culture. The first batch of women officers got commissioned in1992, now 17 years past women still have not been able to break the barrier fully inspite of breaking the crust and making inroads. Yet with time they have started to see the bigger canvas and so also their scope on the same.
2. Defence readiness is one major aspect which is required to be borne in mind throughout while considering their employability options. Their career aspects and opportunities need to be viewed holistically keeping the final aim in focus. Yet a few discriminatory policies as been professed by the government need review such as their short service commission, combat exclusion, and entry into ranks and so on. Fore- planning and systematic approach should be the correct approach prior to deciding on any such issue. Nevertheless, a small beginning is ensuring a greater role for women. Government of India, after the high Court ruling, has decided to grant Permanent Commission in select cadres.
3. Different set of policies will only affect the working efficiency and interaction between the two genders in the services. This exclusion from select working places will only harm the organization and upset the normal working routine. Notwithstanding this, Armed forces have been constituted with the sole purpose of ensuring defence of the country and all policy decisions should be guided by this overriding factor. All matters concerning defence of the country have to be considered in a dispassionate manner. No decision should be taken which even remotely affects the cohesiveness and efficiency of the military. Concern for equality of sexes or political expediency should not influence defence policies.
4. Induction of women into selected fields of Indian Armed Forces has given rise to the issue of their employability in various spheres and how training is to be affected. This study seeks to analyse the above issue in Indian context.
Statement of the Problem
5. Justification for the Study
8. This study concentrates on the issue of role & training of women in the Indian Army. Questions that are likely to be raised in the context of Air Force and Navy in the light of this study are kept beyond its purview. will only be dealt with in passing as far as its relevance to women in general is concerned. It will restrict itself to the .
Methods of Data Collection
9. The following techniques of data collection have been used for the purpose of the present study:-
(a) Objective type questionnaires circulated within student officers, staff at DSSC, Wellington and lady officers serving and retired.
(b) Interview with a serving lady officer.
(c) Books, magazines, journals available at DSSC library and information from the net.
10. Due to vastness of the subject, it is intended to study important aspects of the subject in seven chapters as follows: –
(c) Historical Perspective & World Overview.
(d) Employment Problems and Present Status.
(e) Training and Related Aspects.
(f) Future Role Prospects.
Source of Study
11. Sources of study are the Defence Services Staff College library, personal experiences and Internet. Bibliography is attached as appendix.
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE AND WORLD OVERVIEW
12. The Indian mythology sources the whole energy in the entire creation to a female deity called Shakti, the consort of Lord Shiva. The scriptures very vividly describe the first ever war fought in the creation, i.e., between Devas and Rakshashas wherein the commander of Rakshashas, Mahishasura, was killed by none other than the overall commander of Devas, named Durga. To this day we celebrate this victory every year as Durga Pooja. All civilizations have myths based on female goddesses- hunters, warriors, nurturers and preservers. The Greek goddess Athena, Roman Diana, Nordic Valkyries and the Amazons are cases in point. History is replete with such female warrior commanders, Maharani Laxmibai of Jhansi, Razia Sultan and Chand Bibi to quote a few. This trend is in no way extinct. Nonetheless, the women culture in armies drew controversies during the medieval period and since then has refused to die down. Despite various roles in the armies of past societies, it is only recently that women have begun to be given a more expanded role in contemporary armed forces of the world, and thus, the debate picks up more vociferously.
INA – The Forerunner in Identifying Women Power
13. Subhash Chandra Bose, was the pioneer in recognizing the untapped potential of the Indian women. He therefore, involved them in Indian National Army, which was raised to snatch independence from the colonial builders. The first Rani of Jhansi training camp was inaugurated under the direct guidance of Subhash Chandra Bose, near Singapore on October 22, 1943. The seed sown back then has gained a definite contour whilst making women in Indian Army an imperative part. The image of women of the Rani of Jhansi regiment left the British spellbound. Women in India have always played an active role when it comes to safeguarding the nation. But organizing women into an army was, probably, done for the first time by Subhash Chandra Bose. The women in Indian National Army (INA) fought for their country`s independence along with their male counterparts with equal courage and valour.
A World Scan:
Recent History of Changes in Women’s Roles
14. It’s been only 17 years since the women wore the ranks of a Second Lieutenant in the Indian Armed Forces. This period is a very small window in the history of women sacrifices for the military cause in contemporary world. To understand the various facets of this gender developing through the time there is a need to scan through the world armies that gave women equal opportunities to serve their countries alongside men without discrimination. The evolution in various countries is enumerated in subsequent paragraphs.
15. The first women became involved with the Australian Armed Forces with the creation of the Army Nursing Service in 1899. Currently, women make up 12.8% of the Australian Defence Force (with 15.1% in the Royal Australian Air Force, 14.6% in the Royal Australian Navy and 17.5% in the Australian Army). In 1998 Australia became the second nation in the world to allow women to serve on its submarines. Australia does not permit women to serve in military positions involving ‘direct combat’. Australia’s first deployment of female sailors in a combat zone was during the 1991 Gulf War.
16. Women join the British Armed forces in all roles except those where “primary duty is to close with and kill the enemy”. Today, 71% of all jobs in theNavy, 67% in the Army and 96% in the Air Force are tenable by women. Female personnel currently make up around 9% of the British armed forces.
17. Women served in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps during the World War I and II; however they were not permitted to serve in combat teams. Same was during the Korean War of 1950-1953.In 1970 the government created equal opportunities, making it possible for women to reach any rank. In 1982 laws were passed ending all discrimination in employment and combat related roles in the Canadian armed forces were opened for women, with no restrictions in place, with the exception of the submarine service. In 1990 the Ministers Advisory Board on Women in the Canadian Forces was created. Women were permitted to serve on board Canadian submarines in 2002. Canadian women have also become clearance divers, and commanded large infantry units and Canadian warships. On May 17, 2006 Captain Nichola Goddard became the first Canadian woman to be killed in combat during operations in Afghanistan. Today women account for close to 13 percent of the total strength of the Canadian forces.
18. Women were employed in the Danish Armed Forces as early as 1934. In 1962 women were allowed to volunteer in the regular armed forces as long as they did not serve in units experiencing direct combat. The year 1971 saw the enlistment of women as non-commissioned officers. In 1978, based on the reports of studies on the topic, women were allowed to enlist in an all areas of the Danish armed forces, with combat trials in the eighties exploring the capabilities of women in combat. In 1998 women were allowed to sample military life in the same way as conscripted men, however without being completely open to conscription. NATO reports also indicate that the Danish military does not promote women to positions of leadership. Denmark has different basic physical requirements for men and women in their armed forces; however the requirements for the more physically demanding jobs do not differ for either sex.
19. Finnish Defence Forces does not conscript women. However, since 1995, the women between 18 and 30 years of age have the possibility of voluntarily undertaking the military service in the Defence Forces or in the Finnish Border Guard. In garrison environment, the females are lodged in separate rooms and are given separate toilet and bath facilities. In exercises and aboard ships, women are lodged with men. Yearly, some 500 women complete the voluntary military service.
20. A study (December 2006) shows that women represent 19% of all French military personnel. They are allowed to serve in all posts (including combat infantry), except submarines and riot control units. However, they still represent a small part of the personnel in combat role specialties.
21. Germany had employed one of the most conservative gender-policies of any NATO country. During the final months of World War II, young boys and old men were called up to fight the advancing Soviet forces, however no woman was called upon, despite the country’s long history of female fighting figures. In the year 1975 the first women were appointed for the medical service of the German Bundeswehr. But it was not until January 2001 that women joined German combat units. Women represent a share of 7 percent of all troops except conscripted soldiers. Women in the German air force have received their jet fighter license.
22. Several women transport pilots served in the 1948 War of Independence, but later the Air Force closed its ranks to female pilots. There is a draft of both men and women. Most women serve in non-combat positions, and are conscripted for only two years (instead of four for men). In 2001, Israel’s first female combat pilot received her wings. Up to 83% of positions in the Israeli army are open to women. Combat duty is voluntary for women.
23. Women in Norway have been able to fill military roles since 1938, and during the Second World War female officers served in all branches of the military. Between 1977 and 1984, laws expanded the role of women in the Armed Forces, and in 1985 the equal opportunities legislations were applied to the military. Norwegian women are permitted to serve on a voluntary basis, however in the event of national mobilization they will be under the same pressures as men. In 1995, Norway became the first country to allow women to serve on its military submarines. All women between the age 18-20 are given the opportunity to attend national conscription selection.
24. Women have served since World War I as all-female units. Women make up 10% of Russia’s military strength. Several programs during the height of the cold war were set up to encourage women to enlist. Participation in military orientated youth programs and forced participation in the reserves for ex-servicewomen up to the age of 40 are some examples.
25. The United States is considered a pioneer and a trend-setter as regards induction of women in the services. There are approximately 200,000 American women on active duty in the US armed forces. They constitute nearly 20 percent of its strength. The scope of combat-risk assignments for women was redefined to open additional appointments to them. The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps wasestablished in the United States in 1941 and saw combat during World War II. The Women’s Naval Reserve and Marine Corps Women’s Reserve were also created during this conflict. There were 350,000 American women who served during World War II, 16 were killed in action and 83 were captured and spent three years as Japanese prisoners of war. In 1948, women were fully integrated within units during peace time, with only the WAC remaining a separate female unit. The 1991 Gulf War proved to be the pivotal time for the role of women in the American Armed Forces to come to the attention of the world media. Over 40,000 women served in almost every role the armed forces had to offer. Today, women can serve on American combat ships, to include command. However women are not permitted to serve on submarines or to participate in Special Forces. Women are barred from serving in Infantry, Special Operations, Artillery, Armoured, and Forward Air Defence.
Some Other Countries
26. Bulgaria has adopted a highly flexible model. Women are appointed to professional military service in the Armed Forces on appointments proposed by the Chief of the General Staff. They have equal training standards and equal professional rights as men. Women constitute about 7 percent of the total force.
27. Turkey has introduced the first female combat pilot of the world.
28. Since 1989 there are no gender restrictions in the Swedish military on access to military training or positions. They are allowed to serve in all parts of the military and in all positions, including combat. 
29. Thailand has recently begun recruiting and training women to conduct counter-insurgency operations.
30. Libya is the only Islamic nation to have women in the military. The 500-strong unit of President’s bodyguard is called variously the “Green Nuns” and “The Amazonian Guard”.
EMPLOYMENT PROBLEMS AND PRESENT STATUS
“Men are the historic authors of organised violence.”
Jean Bethke Elshtain,1987.
Issues Regarding Women’s Role in the Military
32. The role of women in the military has become a burning topic for debate in all Armed Forces and the governments all across the globe. With equality and parity being the norm of the day, women’s combat exclusion is tagged as gender discrimination. Thus, the debate continues to rage. Arguments both for and against for inclusion of women as combat soldiers are placed by all in the organization as well as those who are analytical of the same.
33. Many argue & these arguments have been showcased by those who favor women serving in combat roles as well as by those who are against playing with the system. Much of these arguments are not only based on the physical and physiological differences between the two sexes, but also on varied behavioral aspects and the fallout of the presence of the fairer sex on the battlefield. Some of the arguments are discussed in the succeeding paragraphs.
34. Physical Limitations.
One of the most visible attributes in regards to the argument is the fact that, on average, female soldiers are physically weak in strength as their male counterparts.
35. Behavioural Concerns.
The dilution of a fighting unit’s esprit de corps is highlighted as another reason for women to be excluded from forward-line combat actions. Indeed, many soldiers have stated that they could not trust a woman to perform her duties in a place where trusting your fellow soldier would be exceedingly critical.
36. Gender Discrimination and Past Trends .
Many have viewed the sidelining of women from jobs which can prove their equality with men as the biggest gender discrimination. They advocate that women should not be deprived from serving in these roles just by citing historic well defined gender roles, which view soldiering as a profession for men, and that equal opportunity be applicable in the military. History also provides examples of women outperforming men during conflicts and in specific in the combat roles.
37. On Ground Concerns.
Reason for removing female soldiers from the front lines is no reflection of the performance of female soldiers, but that of the enraged male infantryman after witnessing a woman wounded. Australian soldiers had reported reluctance to take women on reconnaissance or special operations, as they feared that in case of combat or discovery, their priority will be to save the women and not to complete the mission. Thus while men might be able to be programmed to kill, it is not as easy to program men to neglect women.”
 How will the media and the public react to the spectacle of a woman being beaten and paraded on TV by her foreign captors? But, is there a difference between male and female POWs? Many offer views regarding females in battle, and that they would be as effective as men. They may be right but then let us put the possibility of one of our female officers being captured and raped, or worse still being repatriated pregnant or bearing the enemy’s children. The very notion creates turmoil. This point is countered, however, by the fact that women in non-combat roles are also exposed to the similar risk without having benefit of being armed and trained adequately to combat and defend them. In general, it can be stated that volunteer soldiers are expected to have accepted the risk of such treatment when enlisting regardless of gender. When one of the woman officer was asked, if she had fears of being captured and tortured, “exactly the same fears as you had imagine”, she replied. “Why do you feel the need to worry about me? If I get captured it will be my problem, not yours”.
39. Dilemma for Commanding Officers. Commanding Officers (COs) have a great role to play in shaping the career of young officers. Therefore, opinion of COs carries heavy weightage since these are formed directly from on ground performance. It becomes their utmost responsibility to ensure safety and security of women officers under their command which they find it quite difficult, especially during field exercises. Another problem encountered by them is regards to their efficient employment. Employing them in isolation and during night hours as duty officers and on other tasks creates threat to their safety and dignity. Thus their male counterparts have to undertake added responsibilities, which they silently detest.
40. Referring to the recent increase in women’s service, some COs pointed out that at 14 years of service a lady officer will be second in command of a unit and will officiate as its commanding officer. Initially having been employed on softer appointments, there is an obvious disadvantage to the unit when they grow in rank and service without matching experience.
41. Extra Burden Felt by Male Colleagues.
The male fraternity adores the commitment of lady officers. It not only understands but appreciates as well the challenges they faced whilst trying to adapt into a male dominated environment. However, it is desired from the women officers to perform their part without much ado. Biased treatment expected and willfully accepted by them is just not warranted. One officer was outspoken enough to state – “They have joined the military on the plank of equality of sexes but this plank vanishes the day they join the training academy. Thereafter, they again become the weaker sex needing special dispensations.” An officer recounted that a lady officer posted to an Ordnance Depot declined to carry out periodic stocktaking of stores lying in isolated sheds unless provided with escort for security. Other officers had to do her job.
42. In army there is a concept of field and peace postings. Every officer looks forward to a good peace posting to be with his family and sort out family issues. But a large number of peace postings at junior officers’ level are held by the women officers, thereby depriving male officers of their due share. It has become a sore point with many and cause of low morale.
43. Soldiers’ View. Most soldiers view women’s induction as a fall-out of Government policies and generally take it lightly. They are convinced that women can never lead them effectively. Some Junior Commissioned Officers were blunt enough to state – “An officer, who cannot run with us, cannot train with us and cannot exercise with us can barely be expected to lead us”.
44. Notwithstanding the above, India is proud of the fact that women in the Indian services are being treated in a manner befitting their dignity and self respect, despite the fact that the Indian soldier is drawn from rustic stock where women to date are confined to household chores. In this regard, India can rightfully claim to have a record which is far better than that of any advanced nation in the world.
Major Issues Experienced
45. Women in all militaries are confronted with social, behavioral and psychological problems at all levels. According to many surveys carried out women are not fully satisfied with the ethos of military profession. Some of the major issues concerning women in all defence forces are discussed below in the succeeding paragraphs.
46. Sexual Harassment.
This is one single concern that has defied solution so far – how to ensure safety and protect dignity of women in the forces. Almost all women view this as their major fear. What hurts women most is the attitude of military officials who dismiss complaints as frivolous and due to over-sensitivities of women involved. Even serious accusations of sexual assault are many times treated in a perfunctory manner. Moreover, many officers tend to adopt an attitude of acquiescence by resorting to ‘boys will be boys’ apology.
47. Low Acceptance.
Acceptance of women in the military has not been smooth in any country. Every country has to contend with sceptics who consider it to be a counterproductive programme. They tend to view it as a political gimmick to flaunt sexual equality, or, at best, a necessary liability. Additionally, every country has to mould the attitude of its society at large and male soldiers in particular to enhance acceptability of women in the military.
48. Lack of Job Satisfaction.
Most women feel that their competence is not given due recognition. Seniors tend to be over-indulgent without valuing their views. They are generally marginalised and not involved in any major decision-making. They have to work twice as hard as men to prove their worth. Many women complain that despite their technical qualifications. Lack of individual challenge confronts a vast majority of servicewomen who find themselves in ‘catch-22’ situation of being a non- combatant , and often without responsibility commensurate with rank, position and seniority- the three most acknowledged tools of authority in the armed forces”. Since women are assigned only to support branches/ corps, the majority of profiles to which women are designated tend to be routine and uninspiring desk jobs. The thrill and adventure associated with a career in the armed forces remains an unfulfilled aspiration for most. Most women find the Services not matching with their expectations, in terms that their work profiles are not challenging enough. Women who do cite achievements in the armed forces are more as a matter of chance and the right connections rather than systematic opportunities accorded to all women officers in the Services.
49. Poor Comfort Level.
Most women accepted the fact that their presence amongst males tends to make the environment ‘formal and stiff’. Mutual comfort level between men and women colleagues is low. Men miss their light hearted banter which is considered essential to release work tensions and promote group cohesion. They consider women to be intruding on their privacy.
50. Doubts about Role Definition.
The profession of arms is all about violence and brutality. To kill another human is not moral but soldiers are trained to kill. They tend to acquire a streak of raw ruthlessness and coarseness. This makes the environment highly non-conducive and rough for women. Women, in general, are confused about the way they should conduct themselves. If they behave lady-like, their acceptance amongst male colleagues is low. On the other hand, their active participation in casual repartee carries the danger of their losing colleagues’ respect.
51. No Kid Glove Treatment.
Women who are mentally robust, physically fit and highly motivated resent preferential treatment being meted out to them. They want to be treated at par with their male colleagues so that they get a fair opportunity to prove their worth. They demand same selection criteria, same training standards and same work schedules. They do not want to be treated as weaklings as it offends their sensitivities and self-respect. They take exception to some women seeking kid-glove treatment to escape hardships.
52. Mismatch between Perception and Reality.
However, most of the women opting for a career in the services belong to families where their upbringing has been in a highly sheltered environment. A career in the military is at the other extreme. They admit having limited knowledge of military life at the time of joining. Subsequently, life in the military comes as a big shock to them. While some adapt to it well others find the task to be too daunting. Additionally, many women officers are unsure of their identity – they want to be officers and yet be given the deference of service wives. It has been a cause for despair for many.
53. Hardships of Married Life.
Women normally get commissioned at the age of 23 to 25 years. Soon, thereafter, family pressures start building up on them to get married. Many women confess that managing married life with military service is difficult, though marrying a service officer helps. Subsequent pregnancy and motherhood prove very demanding.
54. Short Service Commission: A Demoralizing Factor.
All the three services offer only a short service commission (SSC). Unlike male officers, who have the option of a permanent commission at the time of joining or at the time of completion of their initial term if SSC officers, women officers are not extended the option of a PC at any stage in their service. At the end of their maximum tenure of 14 years they have to leave the service. The ceiling on their tenure of service has a serious limiting effect on the career, as they reach a certain dead end in their career while they are in their early or mid thirties. As long as women officers in the services are denied the choice of a permanent commission, their service in the armed forces will remain merely a job and never a dedicated career option.
55. Since the shortage of officers is being experienced only at the junior levels, the armed forces do not envisage any role for women officers at senior levels in the foreseeable future. This propensity is reflected in all current policies regarding employability and opportunities offered to women in the armed forces. With a limited service span and the restrictions placed on their role employability, women have a double disadvantage of a 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 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. This, of course, excludes the Medical Corps.
56. A limited service tenure has overall critical ramifications for women. In their early thirties, faced with a dead end and unemployment, women officers have little choice but to either resign themselves to their domestic responsibilities or to struggle all over again in a highly competitive environment to re-establish themselves in a new career field. To have no options to continue in the armed forces after giving the organisation 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 tour of duty, 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 pensioners’ benefits either and so, they lose out on economic gains as well.
57. Combat Exclusions.
Career prospects of women are enormously constraint & limited due to a strict and formal combat exclusion policy for women.
58. The way to power & decision making which includes command of troops with seniority is through tenures in field & combat application. Since women officers have been denied this arena they are considered to be on equal footing. Lack of field experiences will never let them compete for higher decision making positions & therefore will not be able to stand tall & at par with their male counterparts.
TRG & RELATED ASPECTS
59. Why women have traditionally been absent from the battlefield is, of course, their relative physical weakness. From antiquity males have been considerably larger and stronger than females; indeed some biologists believe that nature has made them stronger in order that they might fight. Over the last twenty years, studies found that the average US female army recruit was 12 centimeters shorter,14.3 kilograms lighter, had 16.9 fewer kilograms of muscle, and 2.6 more kilograms of fat than the average male recruit. She had only 55% of the upper body strength and 72% of the lower body strength of the average male. Since fat mass is inversely related to aerobic capacity and heat tolerance, women are also at a significant disadvantage when performing aerobic activities such as marching with heavy loads and working in heat. At high altitudes, women’s handicap is such that it may affect their ability to reproduce. Finally, even when the experiments were controlled for height, women only had 80 percent of the strength of men. Overall, only the upper 20 percent of women can do as well, physically, as the lower 20 percent of men.
60. Thanks to the ‘superior ability of men to add muscle to their bodies, intensive training, far from diminishing the physical differences between the sexes, tends to increase them still further. After eight weeks of such training male plebes at West Point demonstrated 32 percent more power in the lower body and performed 48 percent more work at the leg press than female ones. At the bench press, the men demonstrated 270 percent more power and performed 473 percent more work than the women. One biologist claims that, if the hundred strongest individuals were to be selected out of a random group consisting of one hundred men and one hundred women, then ninety-three would be male and only seven female. Another
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