By Air Marshal (Retd) Anil Chopra
Serious participation of women in military goes back only 400 years. French Joan of Arc in 1431 and Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, 1858 are two very world famous women warriors. For various reasons, mostly men have been enrolled for war fighting. Many women of course braved the battlefield as nurses and aides in First World War. Russians were the only ones to employ a front-line Light Cavalry in Cossack regiment which was commanded by a female colonel. Since early 1970s increasing numbers are employed in military. Women were first inducted into Indian Armed Forces in 1992. Today there are 1300 (3.4%) in the Army, 410 (3.9%) in the Navy and 1400 (14.5%) in the IAF. Compare this with Israel (33%), France (19%), USA (14.6%), Australia (13%), Canada (12%), Russia (10%), Britain (9%), Germany (7%), China (7.5%), and Pakistan (1%). All countries went through an evolutionary approach while inducting women into the otherwise male centric Armed Forces.
Permanent commission for women in Indian Armed Forces has been cleared in Legal and Education branch in all three Services, and additionally in Accounts branch of IAF and Constructors in the Indian Navy. Induction of women in the Army is permitted in EME, Signals, Engineers, Ordnance, Intelligence and Service Corps. All branches of the Indian Navy except Submariners and Divers; and all branches in IAF including Fighter stream are open to them. The US employed nearly 40,000 women in Iraq mostly in combat support tasks. In USA women can serve on, and also Command a ship. In the Chinese Armed Forces, women serve mostly in military support roles, yet in 2009, they had their first batch of women fighter pilots. India and Pakistan have both cleared women fighter pilots, albeit in small numbers.
An Israeli Military report indicates that female combatants displayed higher levels of alertness, were more knowledgeable about the use of weapons and had better shooting abilities than men. On the other hand, Studies in the West have indicated that women have 45 to 50% less upper body strength and are much more prone to fractures and bone injuries. Same has been proved in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many men feel that the military women should be required to compete at same levels of fitness as men. Presently physical standards stipulated for women around the world are definitely lower. Interestingly a 2008 study by a female military student in the USA found that female cadets saw military training as an opportunity to be strong, assertive and skillful. Also they had to constantly prove that they were capable.
By mid-2015 USA had opened hundreds of thousands front-line positions for women, including even leading to elite commando jobs. Slow but steady change has been the universal approach, and the Indian Armed Forces are adopting the same. Indian military should gradually increase the percentage to an initial practical upper cap to around 12 percent which is comparable to most modern countries. The same may be reviewed every 10 years.
View expressed are the columnist’s own