Women In The Air Force Of Sri Lanka History Essay

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This research was conducted to find a solution to upgrade the living standards and motivation differently women in the air force of Sri Lanka in both economical and social conditions. Also for them to feel that way they have selected is not only for the betterment of their own lives but also for the betterment of country.

Most of the women were joining with Air Force in their pure youth when the war was going with the LTTE. They were known that the next day they visit their homes in confines. But they were confident and brave enough to give their maximum contribution to the Sri Lanka Air Force to save the lives of you and me. Their salty eyes were wakening with their duties while civil women were having a comfortable sleep at our homes. So the effort of this study is to pay my gratitude for their priceless contribution and let them feel that they were not along in the society. In this study I will observe, what are the difficulties of the Women who are working in the air force to gain their future goals in both social, economical conditions. Although give recommendations and suggestion to helping hand for them to achieve their goals.

For that I have interviewed differently Women who are working under the Directorate of Electronic & Telecommunication Engineering. Other than I have found what the other developed countries do to enhance the social, economical standard of the women who are working in the armed forces.


Chapter 1

1.1 Introduction

“Woman is more fitted than man to make exploration and take bolder action in nonviolence… There is no occasion for women to consider themselves subordinate or inferior to men….Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacity….If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior….If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with women…” (Mahathma Gandhi)

In Sri Lanka there is no significant gender disparity when it comes to education, employment or social recognition. This liberal attitude towards women is a by-product of history and not a modern phenomenon. In the Mahawamsa, Sri Lanka chronicle, inscriptions and foreign writing there are positive images of women as military leaders, rulers and benefactresses of religion. Sri Lanka was granted with universal adult franchise in 1931 and free education in 1944 which help elevate the equal rights of both men and women. The constitution of Sri Lanka preserves the fundamental human rights of every citizen of the country without any gender discrimination.

With the expansion of education facilities in the country the youth began to aspire for white collar jobs. An individual is free to seek an employment to suit his academic qualifications and due to limitations prevailed in the local market many left the country in search of greener pastures. However with the enhanced recruiting policies more and more educated members of the fair sex opted to join the armed forces. Among factors that attract women to join the services, the job security and substantial salary with numerous facilities, social status is significant.

Merit and de merit of the issue is to be discussed by researchers. Can the forces of a country like ours play a role as an employment provider? The forces are not generating any income and depend on treasury funding. The productivity for the employees of an organization is an important factor for its survival. Attempts are therefore being made to provide skill training and motivate them to be more useful. Molding of an employee to be more productive is therefore expensive and costly. Hence such a person’s contribution to the organization is expected to be satisfactory and beneficial. There are women in some countries who work hand in hand in many trades and professions. However in the east tradition was that women refrained from handling hard work besides caring the children they were to carry out other important domestic tasks such as managing family income and assets. However the situation began to change rapidly with expansion of education and women’s rights.

It is common knowledge that women are generally constrained at work due to their domestic obligation, pregnancy, feeding etc. as a result they aspire to handle lighter duties as such as possible which is not possible always in services. However they cannot be denied of their entitlement of leave and other facilities granted to them by status at present. Therefore women in services are often confined to areas such as clerical service, communication, nursing etc.

1.2 Aim of the Research

It is an accepted fact that women contribute to the economic & social development as men. In many eastern countries women are discriminated. In those countries women cannot do some prestigious jobs. In Muslim countries the women do not have freedom to practice her religion. In Indian countries widows are run down and neglected. In some part widows are forced to commit suicide. But in house hold activities she gets more responsibilities than men. Fortunately in Sri Lanka women have a chance to do prestigious jobs as men in the society. Also they have enough freedom to live under Sri Lankan the cultural aspects.

So in my research I am going to give invisible side of the women who are doing their jobs in the military. Because not like other prestigious jobs, in the military women have to face lot of problem when we compare with the civil women who are doing the same job in the society. Specially regarding the family life, women have more stress on problem of the children, economic and social problem. As well as in the period of bachelor life also they are facing many problems, for example they have to be under strict set of rules, always confine to the camp except authority from the commanding officer or base commander of the camp. Anyhow most of women overcome these problems and doing their job as well as spending a successful family life.

1.3 Objectives

1.3.1 General objective is to identify the main issues on the recruiting women to Air Force in Sri Lanka. Other specific Objectives are, To find the progress of women in Air Force of Sri Lanka. To identify the requirement of women to the Air Force in Sri Lanka and present status of women in the Air Force in Sri Lanka. To discover the advantages and disadvantages of getting women to armed forces. To explore the yield of women for the Air Force in Sri Lanka. To identify the recent steps taken by the government to enhance the percentage of women in armed forces in Sri Lanka and the future prospects. To give Recommendations based on findings.


2.1 Research Methodology

2.1.1 Research Problem

The military is an environment where personal discipline in enforced and practiced to the highest degree. It is an organization where inter-personal relationships play a vital role in achieving organizational as well as individual goals. Sexual discrimination in the military specially comes into play where women are engaged in combat roles, where masculinity is a demanding factor. In Sri Lanka Air Force, however women are not engaged in combat roles per se, depending on the branches to which they have been assigned. The majority of females in the Sri Lanka Air Force are content with their present branches or trades. In this condition how can we overcome the difficulties of Female Officer and Air Women?

2.1.2 Significance of the Research

Women are directly involving to enhance the society and the cultural aspects, As a well disciplined and well organized organization we will able to give help to enhance their economy and social life and that will help them to lead a normal life without any burden from society.

2.1.3 Hypothesis

When we compare with the civil women, there is highly effective output from the women who working for the Air Force in Sri Lanka.

2.1.4 Methodology

I will expect to give details about the status, progress and future prospect of the women in the Air Force of Sri Lanka and I will give a question paper to selected women in Air Force in Sri Lanka.

Then I will make my research depend on those details and also collected information by me through Magazines and Internet. Finally I will expect to manage collected information according to my aim.

2.1.5 Scope of The Study

The study focused obtaining the perceptions of lady officers and air women from Sri Lanka Air Force under Director of electronic & telecommunication engineering that represent a reasonable cross section of entire Sri Lanka Air Force. The anonymity of the research was maintained by asking question from certain groups under the name of a consented individual.

The purpose was to eliminate biased answers which may be given as a result of the fact that the questions are presented by a known lady officer. This is also to investigate any differences in response for the same questions based on the gender of the researcher. This method is adopted as the topic is of sensitive nature and based entirely on individual attitudes.

2.1.6 Limitations

I will do my research only considering the women who works under the directorate of Electronic & Telecommunication in the Air Force of Sri Lanka. Except considering other women who are working in the air force. I think these will not applicable to all armed forced women in the world. But according to my knowledge this research will be applicable to all air force women in the Sri Lanka.

2.1.7 Method of Data Collection

For the purpose of collection primary data the strength of female officer and other ranks enlisted to the regular and volunteer Air Force was obtained from women’s wing. Command P2 and volunteer Air Force. The information also contained the branches and trades to which these women were enlisted to give a job distribution of females. Further data of strength distribution of lady officer and Air Women was obtained from all Sri Lanka Air Force. Interviews were carried out with officers and other ranks of both genders to obtain better understanding on individual perception on the subject, which is of a sensitive nature. While it is an obvious fact that isolated incidents or experiences cannot be applied to the Macro context, it is understood that it gives a general overview of the degree of the problem.

2.2 Literature Review

Over the last hundred years, the role of women within society has changed radically. This is particularly true in relation to Britain’s Armed Forces. During wartime, vital support roles were undertaken so that men could be released for combat. Today, women are serving permanently in their own right. War is a powerful catalyst for change. During the First and Second World Wars women serving with Britain’s Armed Forces contributed greatly to the country’s war effort and in doing so broke down social gender stereotypes. Given the opportunity and training they proved that women could successfully undertake male military roles under difficult circumstances.

The Royal Air Force (RAF) has always recognized the important contribution which women can make. Its female counterpart, the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) was created on the same date of 1 April 1918 and disbanded in 1920. Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing Service was established as a permanent branch of the RAF in 1923. The Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), formed for war in 1939 was continued after the Second World War ended. It was re-formed as the WRAF, a permanent female peacetime force in 1949 and was fully integrated into the RAF in 1994. Today, complete integration has broken down the barriers further. For example, female aircrews including pilots now fly operationally in the RAF. With 2009 marking the 70th anniversary of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and the 60th anniversary of the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) this exhibition focuses on the history of these women’s air services and the experiences of those who served.

The Sri Lanka Army Women’s Corps (SLAWC) was formed on September 1, 1979 as an unarmed, noncombatant support unit. Set up with the assistance of the Women’s Royal Army Corps, it was identical in structure to its parent organization, and its first generation of officer cadets was trained in Britain. Candidates were required to be between eighteen and twenty years old and to have passed the General Common Entrance (Ordinary level) examinations, while the Officer candidates must have passed the Advanced Level. Enlistment entailed a five-year service commitment (the same as for men), and recruits were not allowed to marry during this period. In the sixteen-week training course at the Army Training Center at the Diyathalawa Sri Lanka Military Academy, cadets were put through a program of drill and physical training similar to the men’s program, with the exception of weapons and battle craft training. Female recruits were paid according to the same scale as the men, but were limited to service in nursing, communications, and clerical work. In late 1987, the first class of women graduates from the Viyanini Army Training Center was certified to serve as army instructors. But, from late 1987 – after hostilities began, the first batch of women graduates from the British Army’s Women’s Corp Center certified to serve as Army Instructors. Up to now, women officers have proved their ability and serve in varied specialized fields in the Service as control tower operators, electronic warfare technicians, radio material tele-typists , automotive mechanics, aviation supply personnel, cryptographers, doctors, combat medic, lawyers, engineers and even aerial photographers.

To meet the operational requirements in the field areas, the 2nd Volunteer Battalion of the Women’s Corps was also raised. A few officers from the regular counterpart were attached to this unit to organize the command structure. They are currently employed in the northern and eastern parts of the island as well.

Many officers commencing with Lieutenant Colonel A.W. Thambiraja were appointed to command this unit from time to time. The first women’s corps officer to command the unit was Lieutenant Colonel Kumudini Weerasekara in 1992 and as of 2007 there were three female officers of the rank of Major General. At present there is one regular regiment and four volunteer regiments in the Women’s Corps.

When consider about the women contribution to the World War II bulk of new jobs opportunities were created with the initiating of World War II. The weapons of war had to be produced, and the defense factories were in devilish need of laborers. Women had a great opportunity to become part of the labor force. Before the war, it was unusual for women to work outside the home. During the war II, about half of all American women worked outside their homes. The work of women during World War II proved that they could be trained to do the same technical work as men. The number of working women in 1941 to 1944 increased from 14.6-million to 19.4 million.

Women were motivated not only by patriotism and the liking for high salaries, but by the sense of community they gained from participation in a large undertaking. Without their labors, the United State war economy would never have been able to produce the military hardware needed to win the war. Their presence in the workplace sparked the beginning of a change not only in the working roles of men and women, but in the living styles and home duties of both sexes. Sri Lanka air force women wing was established on 21 November 1987, on 07 January 1989 it become constitutional law by a special Gazette order. And according to the set of rules/ Gazette order in the women’s wing Commander of the Air Force will appoint a regular officer as the commanding officer in the Sri Lanka Air Force women’s wing. Women are eligible to join the Air Force if only they fulfill the required qualification, should have a citizenship in Sri Lankan and specially should be unmarried women. If any women become lady officers in the air force, she can serve to the air force as long as they like with the willingness of the His Excellency of the president.

And also women are serving proudly in Operation Iraqui Freedom – in, around, and near hostile territory. Yes, we’ve had casualties, prisoners, and injuries – both men and women. But now is not the time to advocate removing women from certain roles in the military nor is it the time to use the issue of casualties and prisoners to decry allowing women to serve in combat roles – attacking military women with invidious caterwauling. There is really nothing to debate – women are in combat roles, in harm’s way, and they are doing their jobs. Let’s just get used to it and realize it’s not the Girl Scouts and it is the Armed Forces. Women are serving proudly, living up to the oath that they took to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic” 


3.1 Women in the military

The role of women in combat has become a controversial issue in contemporary militaries throughout the world. Some see the non-inclusion of women in combat roles as a form of sexual discrimination. Some societies do not permit women to fight for their countries, while others have used women to fight in their wars as frequently as men. For example, 800,000 women served in the soviet military during World War II and nearly 70% of them engaged in front line action.

There is much argument on women serving in the military both in combat and non combat roles. These arguments are mainly focused on the physical differences between men and women, and also on differing mentalities. Thus the following points could be highlighted as areas contributing towards existences of sexual discrimination in the military.

The first female officers to join the Sri Lanka Air Force were in 1972, to the Volunteer Air Force, today women are recruited to both the regular and volunteer forces as both officers and airwomen to the SLAF Women’s Wing. However there are no female pilots in the air force. Although female officers are not able to join the general duties pilot branch, they can join any other branch including the SLAF Regiment and the Air Force Police.

3.1.1Recent policy changes on women in combat in the world

1992-The Defense Authorization Act repealed the long-standing combat exclusion law for women pilots in the Navy and Air Force.

1993- President Clinton signed the military bill ending combat exclusion for women on combatant ships.

1994- Defense Secretary Aspin approved a new general policy to allow Army women to serve with some ground combat units during fighting.

The initial embarkation of women on combat ships during FY94 included eight ships. Two of those eight were aircraft carriers, four were destroyers and two were dock landing ships. The accelerated integration plan called for assigning women to a variety of ships including cruisers, amphibious assault ships and all pre-commissioning Arleigh Burke-class destroyers completed in FY96.

Female officers are eligible to serve in all of the Navy’s officer communities except submarines (policy currently under review) and special warfare (SEALs). Thus, women can occupy 93.5 percent of the officer billets in the Navy. Enlisted women are eligible to serve in 97 percent of career fields (91 of 94 job classifications). Women are eligible to serve in 95.1 percent of the enlisted billets in the Navy.

A total of 283 female naval officers serve as pilots (206) and Naval Flight Officers (77). In addition, there are about 127 women in training to fly combat aircraft. 54 women have already reported to combat aviation squadrons. (Pre-1999 figures)

Women are now aboard combatant ships, thousands of enlisted women and officers are “serving at sea”, and ten Navy women now command ships. 

3.1.2 Physical concerns

Concerns are that females are not masculine enough or not physically compatible to perform well in military roles. This is most highlighted when women are required to engage in combat roles, which in the context of the Sri Lanka Air Force is non-existent. The question remains that women are strong or masculine enough to engage in duties that are required of them in the military.

The female skeletal system is less dense, and more prone to breakages. There was also concern that, in aviation, the female body is not as adept at handling the increased g-forces experienced by combat pilots; in fact, there is now evidence that the male body is less able to handle the g-forces than the female body: women are less likely to black out due to shorter blood vessel routes in the neck. Furthermore, health issues regarding women are argued as the reason that some submarine services avoid accepting women, although mixed-gender accommodations in a small space is also an issue, as is explained in more depth below. The Center for Military Readiness, an organization that seeks to limit women’s participation in the military, stated that “Female soldiers [are], on average, shorter and smaller than men, with 45-50% less upper body strength and 25-30% less aerobic capacity, which is essential for endurance”.

3.1.3 Psychological concerns

The belief that females show less job performance and productivity with comparison with males is another factor that promotes discrimination. Further most males are resistant to accept females as commanders and superiors. While a good leader cannot be defined by his or her gender, the dominant factor here is the subordinate’s background and prejudices. Grossman6 notes that militants rarely, if ever, surrender to female soldiers. Similarly, Iraqi and Afghani civilians are often not intimidated by female soldiers.

The disruption of a combat unit’s esprit de corps is cited as another reason for women to be banned from front-line combat situations. Indeed, many soldiers have stated that they could not trust a woman to perform her duties in a place where trusting their fellow soldier would be critical. There is a secondary concern that romantic relationships between men and women on the front lines could disrupt a unit’s fighting capability and a fear that a high number of women would deliberately become pregnant in order to escape combat duties.

In the British Army, which continues to bar women from serving in infantry-roled units, all recruits joining to fill infantry vacancies partake in a separate training program called the Combat Infantryman’s Course. In the American armed forces, the 1994 rules forbidding female involvement in combat units of brigade size or smaller are being bent. Colonel Cheri Provancha, stationed in Iraq, argues that: “This war has proven that we need to revisit the policy, because they are out there doing it.”

A third argument against the inclusion of women in combat units is that placing women in combat where they are at risk of being captured and tortured and possibly sexually assaulted is unacceptable. In a Presidential Commission report it was found that male Prisoner of War’s, while being subject to physical abuse, were never subject to sexual abuse, and women were almost always subject to sexual abuse. Rhonda Cornum, then a major and flight surgeon, and now a Brigadier General and Command Surgeon for United States Army Forces Command, was an Iraqi Prisoner of War in 1991. At the time, she was asked not to mention that she had been molested while in captivity. Rhonda Cornum subsequently disclosed the attack, but said “A lot of people make a big deal about getting molested,” she noted later, adding: “But in the hierarchy of things that were going wrong, that was pretty low on my list”.

Finally, there is the argument that by not incorporating women into combat, the American government is failing to tap into another source of soldiers for military combat operations. This argument claims that the government is creating a military that treats women as second-class citizens and not equals of men.[13] Other observers state that without women, the military would have numerous manpower shortfalls they would not be able to fill.

3.1.4 Tactical concerns

In On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman briefly mentions that female soldiers in the Israel Defense Forceshave been officially prohibited from serving in close combat military operations since 1948. (However, in 2001, subsequent to publication, women did begin serving in IDF combat units on an experimental basis.) The reason for removing female soldiers from the front lines was due less to the performance of female soldiers and more due to the behavior of the male infantrymen after witnessing a woman wounded. The IDF saw a complete loss of control over soldiers who apparently experienced an uncontrollable, protective, instinctual aggression, severely degrading the unit’s combat effectiveness.

Grossman also notes that Islamic militants rarely, if ever, surrender to female soldiers. In modern warfare where intelligence is perhaps more important than enemy casualties, every factor reducing combatants’ willingness to fight is considered. Similarly, Iraqi and Afghan civilians are often not intimidated by female soldiers. However, in such environments, having female soldiers serving within a combat unit does have the advantage of allowing for searches on female civilians, and in some cases the female areas of segregated mosques, while causing less offense amongst the occupied population. A notable example of this would be female US military personnel who are specially selected to participate in patrols and raids for this purpose. One example of this type of unit is the USMC Lioness program, which used female Marines to search females at checkpoints both on the Iraq-Syrian border and inside urban areas.  Another example is the US Army Cultural Support Teams (CSTs).

These units, designed to accompany special operations teams and work alongside them in deployed environments, are intended to provide access to the information and needs of local community women in communities where contact between male Soldiers and civilian women is culturally fraught. There has, however been evidence that shows that women in combat in OIF and OEF have had success acquiring intelligences from children and women more than men have due to cultural constraints. Men are not permitted to talk to women who are not in their family or are not married to them. Besides the issue of women in combat, they’ve been a strategic advantage to help train women in police forces. This empowers women to have more of position in their community outside of their homes. Melody Kemp mentions that the Australian soldiers have voiced similar concern saying these soldiers “are reluctant to take women on reconnaissance or special operations, as they fear that in the 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.”

3.1.5 Women on submarines

In 1985, the Royal Norwegian Navy became the first  navy in the world to permit female personnel to serve in submarines, followed by the appointment of a female submarine captain in 1995.The Danish Navy allowed women on submarines in 1988, the Swedish Navy in 1989, followed by the Royal Australian Navy in 1998, Canada in 2000, and Spain. All operators of conventional submarines. Social obstacles include the perceived need to segregate accommodation and facilities, with figures from the US Navy highlighting the increased cost, $300,000 per bunk to permit women to serve on submarines versus $4,000 per bunk to allow women to serve on aircraft carriers.

Recent US Navy policy allowed three exceptions for women being on board military submarines: (1) Female civilian technicians for a few days at most,(2)Women midshipmen on an overnight during summer training for both Navy Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and Naval Academy, (3) Family members for one-day dependent cruises.

In October 2009, the U. S. Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus announced that he and the Chief of Naval Operations were moving aggressively to change the policy, Reasons included the fact that larger SSGN and SSBN submarines now in the Fleet had more available space and could accommodate female Officers with little or no modification. Also, the availability of qualified female candidates with the desire to serve in this capacity was cited. It was noted that women now represented 15% of the Active Duty Navy and that women today earn about half of all science and engineering bachelor’s degrees. A policy change was deemed to serve the aspirations of women, the mission of the Navy and the strength of its submarine force.

In February 2010, the Secretary of Defense approved the proposed policy and signed letters formally notifying Congress of the intended change. After receiving no objection, the Navy officially announced on April 29, 2010, that it had authorized women to serve onboard submarines.

3.1.6 Necessity of women in the military

Despite all of the above arguments, it remains a fact widely accepted that non-inclusion of female in the military will create a void that will be impossible to replenish in terms of man power. Be it the military it has indeed been considered a must throughout the world.

3.2 The Previous Contribution of Women to Air Force of Sri Lanka

Much literature is available on women in the military and sexual discrimination issues in the universal and Sri Lanka context. Yet little study has been done to explore the productivity, working conditions and constraints faced by Sri Lanka women in the military.

In Sri Lanka there are no written laws and restrictions that prejudice women’s position in society. Sri Lanka has gone into history with its first ever female Prime Minister and a female President who served two terms in office. Women have equal rights under national, civil and criminal law12. Yet statistics show that the percentages of female literacy and employment do not correspond with the percentage of women in the population8. The constitution provides equal employment opportunities in the public sector but there is no legal protection against discrimination in the private sector9. In the Sri Lanka Air Force Act makes provisions to a certain extent to counter discrimination1011. Yet there are no formal cases of sexual discrimination brought forth by female in the Sri Lanka Air Force12.

3.3 Posting policies for females

3.3.1 Details obtain from Air Force Headquarters

A majority of lady officers and air women presently serve in non-operational areas, in particular at Air Force Head Quarters. Sri Lanka air force unit Colombo, Sri Lanka air force base Katunayaka, Sri Lanka Air Force base Rathmalane. There are some unit camps any single of female not working in that camp. Interview were conducted with officer in charge of Air Women in the majority of Sri Lanka Air Force Bases and it was found that with the experience of 10% of the air women serving in base in operation areas, the rest were serving in base of their choice, by virtue of random posting as a result of personal request. In the case of lady officers too this is somewhat similar with the addition that they were required to serve at particular locations depending on their branch or area of professional specialty15.

Figure. Strength of Regular Air Women as at 01 Jan 2012

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