Overcome bias

Defence Minister A K Antony’s statement that the armed forces are working on granting permanent commission to women officers in more streams provides a glimmer of hope to those who have been working on making the armed forces more gender inclusive. Till 2008, the armed forces offered women only a short service commission (SSC).

A year later, the door to permanent commission for women was opened a bit to allow them into a few non-combat streams such as education, law, signals, ordnance, and air traffic control after they completed 14 years of SSC.

All countries have militaries that are overwhelmingly male. However, the armed forces of several countries have become more inclusive in recent years, allowing women into combat roles and with few restrictions on how high they can rise in the hierarchy. The Indian armed forces, however, have been reluctant to change. The figures say it all.

There are about 2,000 women officers in the 1.4-million-strong armed forces. A breakdown reveals the army to be the most resistant to allowing women in. While women account for 3 per cent of the navy and 7 per cent of the air force, the female component in the army is a mere 2.5 per cent.

The road block to making the armed forces more gender inclusive lies in the thinking of the armed forces. This isn’t surprising. After all, militaries are among the most patriarchical institutions. Senior officers often point to “operational, practical and cultural problems” to justify their position. Some have even said that women aren’t tough and cannot withstand the rigours of life on the frontlines.

These excuses are flimsy and outdated and reveal how out of touch they are with the real world. In every field, women have shown themselves to be as competent as men, when given a level playing field. In the armed forces too, in areas they have been allowed in, women have performed well, perhaps even outdone their male colleagues.

Women in the Indian armed forces have repeatedly revealed their efficiency, toughness and determination. It was their tenacity, after all, that compelled the armed forces to open the door, albeit hesitantly, to allow them permanent commission. It is time that our men in uniform rid themselves of archaic prejudices.

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