by Darryl Goh
When I saw a news article about a female journalist’s NS boot camp experience on Facebook, I knew the comments section was going to be a warzone. The article titled “Not easy at all” drew cynical comments of “what did you expect” and “try doing this for two years” seemed to imply that maybe women should be conscripted too.
NS was always promoted as an effective policy because of strength in numbers. We are able to boast that a large percentage of our male population are “always on standby” to defend Singapore when the need arises.
Women should serve
With falling birth rates resulting in an expected one-third drop in NS cohorts by 2030, it seems that female conscription might be just a matter of time. The military has been trying to use technology to cope with lower headcount, but there is only so much current technology can do. Women are more than capable of serving – they can bring different dimensions of thinking to the table.
On the social side of the issue, the big question is on equality. There were many opinion pieces published on mainstream media about feminism and NS. The general consensus was “to conscript men alone is a sexist move, and to restrict women’s roles to non-combat ones even more so”.
Women should not serve
A common rebuttal for the equality argument is pregnancy. Birthing the next generation of soldiers qualifies as National Service, as career sacrifices are often made. There is a glaring difference between NS and childbirth, however – NS is compulsory while pregnancies are not.
A stronger case against female conscription are economic consequences. A vacuum of fresh graduates and working folk would effectively make Singapore a less competitive place for young talent. Take into account 10 more years of reservist, which is already unpopular among employers, and this could cause a perfect storm to wreck Singapore’s delicate economic ecosystem.
One of the largest criticisms of NS is that it wastes time; get rid of the weirdly endearing yet unproductive culture of “wait to rush, rush to wait”. No one should serve more than what he or she needs to.
One solution could be a massive overhaul of the system; get women onboard, reduce NS to a year, and allow for staggered age intakes. The idea of having a window to decide when to clear their service liability has its merits, and could be adopted in Singapore to reduce economic risks associated with conscripting both males and females.
Ultimately, there is no easy answer to this question – both sides raise valid concerns. With growing political instability in the region and a shrinking birth rate, time may well be running out for the Government to make a decision.
This is an excerpt of the “To serve, or not to serve: Should females serve NS?” article in Issue 65 of Campus magazine, which you can read for free here.