Joan of Arc (b. 1412), godsend to the French army; Tomoe Gozen (b. ~1157), brilliant horse rider and expert of the sword and bow; Mariam Al-Mansouri (b.1979), UAE fighter jet pilot and leader of a 2014 mission against ISIS. What do they have in common? They are inspiring female military leaders.
The question: “Is it a good thing for our sisters and mothers to serve NS?” raises perplexingly more difficult questions, even as Norway joins Israel in mandating female conscription. Since we know it is possible for women to excel in the military, should NS be expanded to women as well?
Solution to military sexism?
The SAF – with only 7% female regulars and anecdotally-known to harbour sexism – could benefit from more women in uniform. Try raising this subject online though – along with reasoned responses, be prepared to see words like “pregnancy”, “gender role” and “stereotype” slung like grenades across the gender lines.
In 2013, lyrics from the army song “Purple Light” gained infamy as an example of sexism in the SAF. And mandatory conscription may remedy that. Both sexes working, training (and suffering) together can build co-gender camaraderie, as opposed to a cultural “boy’s club”. Mandatory army training would also expose more women to the option of a military career.
Lastly – and this is pretty cool – imagine if female NS makes us a nation of Imperator Furiosas.
OK, NS men are hardly all Mad Maxes but what if our female counterparts could benefit from the same resilience, leadership skills and teamwork guys gain through months of rough training? Goodbye delicate, hello bad-ass.
Equality for all?
The current 1.29 births per woman means the number of male recruits looks set to decline, leaving more military roles that need filling. As that happens, those who can serve should, and mandatory conscription would prepare women to do so.
If women served in the military before starting a career, family planning could, and in many cases inevitably would be pushed back further. However, with moms who have served in the army, there is no doubt that their kids would be more prepared and (hopefully) resilient.
The economy would be affected too (and no, we don’t just mean giving more NS pay), since both sexes would be off work for periodical reservist. But for once, boys don’t have to enter the workforce later than their female counterparts – hopefully this means no complaints from NS men about ‘losing their time’.
Possible variations for NS
Before we go full steam ahead with enlisting women, perhaps recruitment can be done slowly. For instance, women can sign on as officers and specialists (SAF’s new volunteer corp saw its first cohort graduate in 2015). Qualified women could rise up and add their unique perspective to military policy and culture. In the meantime, more targeted recruitment drives and awareness programs could place the military option before more Singaporean women to bolster the intake of female regulars.
The army is hell for its gruelling training, without adding to it unhealthy biases that grow in the absence of diversity. While National Service for women could be a one-shot cure, its substantial price tag means we should count the cost carefully before taking the plunge.
Feature Image belongs to The Life of Female Field Intelligence Combat Soldiers
By Vincent Tan