Open it up

The defence ministry’s decision to allow women officers to command combat support branches is another step forward to giving greater roles for women in the forces. The branches which may be opened up will include aviation, signals and engineers.

It will take some time for the new system to be actually and fully implemented because it has been made clear that it will be applicable only to women who are commissioned from 2015 onwards. This is to a make sure that women who join the service are aware of the roles and responsibilities expected of them in future.

They will also have to be physically and mentally prepared and gain necessary training and experience for the jobs.  Attitudes within the forces also will need to change so that women are accepted in command positions.

It has been a long struggle for women to be accepted as fit for positions in the uniformed forces. The male-dominated defence forces have especially had strong prejudices and biases against induction of women. While the medical stream was the only avenue which was once available to them, there have been more openings since the beginning of 1990s.

At present women officers are allowed permanent commission in the legal branch. They also serve as short service commission officers in some other branches. But the total number of women officers in all the defence forces is only about 3600 and this is abysmally low representation in view of the number of women with qualifications and talent available in the country. Many of them aspire to join the forces, which are themselves short of officers in all branches.

What should  support the idea of giving more challenging positions and responsibilities for women in the core defence forces is the performance of women serving in them. There are many countries where even combat positions in the armed forces are not barred for women. In India paramilitary forces are ahead of the three defence forces in this respect.

The army conducted a survey last year and ruled out combat positions for women in the near future. So though the army has claimed that its policy on women officers has changed, the change has to be more substantive and convincing. There is the need to recruit them in greater numbers. The policy of denial of combat roles should also be reviewed.

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