What does it mean for a woman to join the armed forces as an officer either on the field or behind the scenes? The scenario in most cases is that of a woman cadet being a part of the administrative posts or as a technical or non-technical staff. Talking about women in the Indian Armed Forces, there have been just 1200 women cadets who have been inducted and trained to become on-field officer cadres so far, as per the data provided by joinindianarmy.nic.in. On the other hand there have been countless men cadets who have been inducted into the Indian army since its inception in the year 1947. It has also been mentioned in the website that the first batch of women inducted in the officer cadre was as late as in the year 1992, besides explaining the terms and conditions that are associated with application and later promotion in the forces. Although some would say that at least the process to induct women officers did begin even if the initiative was taken later than it should have been but the pertinent question lies elsewhere. Why this disparity in the number of men and women in officer and on-field ranks? Does this highlight the age-old prejudice that when it comes to physical labour, men are at a better footing than women and hence, physical tasks should be the prerogative of men only and women can stick to administrative posts in the Army that require a table job. Even the entry schemes for men and women are segregated and different criterias are required from the two sexes for the same job. The criteria that captured my attention the most was about the marital status of the applicants. In case of non-UPSC male graduates, they can be either married or unmarried but when it comes to the same non-UPSC graduates in females, they have to be strictly unmarried, playing to the adage that married women are not capable enough to deal with both the household and the professional sphere.
Another disturbing trend that has been noted is that of cases of sexual assault in armed forces across the world. Dealing specifically with the U.S. Armed Forces, there have been several cases reported in the army about gross violation in outraging the modesty of a woman army cadet and cases of sexual misconduct have been filed against top ranking male officers. According to the New York Times report (dated March 2013), about one in three women in the armed forces has been sexually assaulted, twice the civilian rate. The website GlobalResearch claims that the conviction rate in the reported cases of crimes against women in the U.S. Army is at a dismal state with numbers certainly not to be proud of. They advocate that “an estimated rate of less than one tenth of one percent result in conviction. Thus with the US Senate recently voting to not transfer jurisdiction to civilian courts, the prospect of women in uniform getting a fair shake appears to remain no different than a year ago. Instead, it appears it will only be business as usual in all the military services.” (Report published on March 23, 2014).
Most of these instances prove that when it comes to ruthless combat and even for significant administrative posts, women with caliber are often ignored on grounds that are often not legit. There have been incidents where army establishments have been rocked with accusations that a fair process of promotion has not been followed but as the conviction process is slow, the truth often remains buried in depths of anonymity. In world wars 1 and 2, women from various countries served as nurses but Russia was the only country to have female combat troops in significant numbers. Countries like Israel employ women troops on warzone in considerable numbers but unfortunately the number even though significant in most cases in comparison to the situation a few years ago, is miniscule when contrasted with their male counterparts.
Coming to statistics, the U.S. Armed Forces has recruited 2.7% women soldiers in front-line units and only 5.4% of those recruited officers have been employed in “tactical operations” ( A CNN Report, January 2014). Even when women are recruited in the armed forces, they are usually put up in medical, law and engineering sectors of the army and not in combat. Despite such a disappointing condition of women in armed forces, the silver lining lies in the fact that with every passing day the mentality is changing and women too are raring to give up. Emboldened by a fervour to carve a niche for themselves in what has always been considered a man’s dominion, there are women officers who have taken up the challenge and are bent on changing the rules of the game.
The reasons that are put forward when it comes to women are the few medical or health conditions associated with them. Pregnancy is often cited as a condition that coerces women to take a maternity leave and in the Armed forces such long absences are hardly to be dealt with in an emotional manner. Though this explanation is partially admissible, it can not at any point be used as a weapon to restrict married women from joining the armed forces. The call of the hour is not to make blatant generalizations but to treat every individual as a potential army cadet irrespective of their sex, abstaining from seeing them through tinted glasses.