Role of Women in Armed Forces
Women have been revered in India since times immemorial in the form of Goddess Shakti, Durga, Kali, etc.
These goddesses are worshipped for their power giving capabilities.
Worldwide also women with power to fight and destroy evil are worshipped like the Greek Goddess Athena, the Roman Diana, the Nordic Valkyries, etc.
But the role of women in combat forces is a matter of debate today.
Women have crossed various milestones in all aspects of life.
They are also actively coming forward in large numbers to join the defence services.
In India, earlier they would serve only for a limited time period after joining the service through Short Service Commission (SSC) recruitment.
In 2020, when the Supreme Court asked the Army to open the doors of Permanent Commission to women in all non-combat streams, it had elicited a similar debate about the possibility of women participating in combat roles, including as leaders, in future.
Women in Uniform:
Women have been a part of the Army Medical Corps since 1958.
Since 1992, they began to be inducted in other branches but only in Short Service Commission.
In 2008, women were first inducted as Permanent Commissioned Officers in Legal and Education Corps, while in 2020 they were inducted in 8 more corps as Permanent commissioned Officers.
But they are not yet allowed as combatant in the Parachute Regiment of Indian Army, Infantry, Mechanised Infantry, Armoured Corps and Artillery.
Meanwhile, in 2019 the government has started recruiting women in the Corps of Military Police, which is responsible for the security of military establishments.
Indian Air Force inducts women in both combat and support roles.
Here also women first served in the medical department.
However in 1994, women joined the Air Force as pilots in support role.
Gunjan Saxena and Sreevidya Rajan were among the first to fly in a combat zone during Kargil War.
In 2015, the IAF opened new combat roles for women as fighter pilots, adding to their role as helicopter pilots in the IAF.
Bhawana Kanth became the first woman fighter pilot to qualify to undertake combat missions.
Indian Navy has a distinction of promoting first women in the armed forces up to a three star rank officer.
In 2018, 6 female crew members of INSV Tarini took part in Navika Sagar Parikrama lead by Lt Cdr Vartika Joshi for circumnavigation of the globe.
Despite this Indian Navy is yet to deploy a woman officer on a warship as a sailor, even though they fly for surveillance and patrol missions.
In 2017, the Indian Coast Guard allowed women in combat roles on board KV Kuber hovercraft ship patrolling the Indian maritime zone bordering Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Assam Rifles has inducted a batch of female soldiers who will be deployed in Cordon and Search Operation (CASO), Mobile Check Posts (MCP) and road opening operations.
In 2020, around 30 rifle-women from Assam Rifles were deployed along the LoC for the first time.
For Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) the government has allowed recruitment of women officers via Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) in supervisory combat roles.
Women have been serving in militaries of developed countries for a long time.
Women officers of the US armed forces have taken up challenging roles as they have also served in Iraq operations in large numbers.
However they are forbidden to be placed in direct ground combat with the enemy and are assigned combat support duties on voluntary basis.
Women are also serving as combat aircraft pilots and are also assigned prolonged duty on combat naval ships.
The scope of combat-risk assignments for women was redefined to open additional appointments to them.
Israel has a large number of women in the armed forces however, they are not allotted active battle field duties.
In many other countries women serve in non-combatant jobs, while Islamic countries are yet to induct women into armed forces.
Various issues cause hindrances for women to be inducted into combat operations.
The natural physical differences in stature, strength and body composition between the sexes make women more vulnerable to certain types of injuries and medical problems, particularly during vigorous and intensive training.
The natural processes of menstruation and pregnancy make women vulnerable in combat situations.
Lack of Privacy and sanitation can result in an increased incidence of genitourinary infections.
The effect of prolonged deployment in difficult terrains and grueling physical activity on the reproductive health of women is still unknown.
Women tend to be more attached to their families.
Thus there is greater mental stress in them and requirement of social support to sustain themselves during prolonged separation from family.
Isolation issues may also arise as men outnumber women by a huge margin in combat roles.
Prospects of women in combat roles is also discouraged by conventional cultural barriers. Most women feel that their competence is not given due recognition.
While delivering its verdict to grant permanent commission to women in the armed forces, the Supreme Court came down heavily on the gender stereotypes employed by the government.
As long as an applicant is qualified for a position, one’s gender is arbitrary.
Cultures change over time and masculine subculture can evolve too.
This nullifies the government’s argument about the readiness of soldiers mostly from rural background to take orders from a female officer.
As for the concern of preserving female jawan’s modesty and dignity, elaborate codes of conducts should be framed to ensure no untoward incident occurs.
Administrative issues should not be cited as a barrier to women entry.
It is the government’s responsibility to create both administrative and social infrastructure for easy induction of women.
There is a need to mould the attitude of society at large, particularly of male soldiers to enhance acceptability of women in the military.
A policy should be drawn wherein the framework for women’s induction in the combat role is laid.
The daughters of our country are kissing the skies on their fighter aircrafts.
Lieutenant Colonel Mitali Madhumita became first female recipient of the Gallantry award for her brave role as a commander during terrorist attacks on Indian Embassy in Kabul.
For showing exemplary courage, IAF Squadron Leader Minty Agrawal has received Yudh Sewa Medal.
These women stand as a testament to the capabilities of women in commanding positions.
The battle for gender equality is about confronting the battles of mind.
The society, the establishment and the women themselves have to be ready to accept that women too can play the crucial role of confronting the enemies.
Arguments that Indian society is not ready to see women in body bags are misleading.
They should not be encouraged to stall women entry in combat roles.
Let’s not clip their wings, as their resolve is enough for them to scale greater heights.