Malaysia, Israel, North Korea and Norway… What do these countries have in common? The answer is mandatory military conscription for women. Perhaps not many would expect to see Norway in this list. However, in almost one year all women on par with men will have to go through mandatory military service in this Scandinavian country.
Around a half a year ago, the Norwegian government passed a bill that aims to extend mandatory military conscription to females, and the overwhelming majority in a parliament voted in favour of the bill. Thus, starting from summer 2016, Norwegian females as well as males will be obliged to go through military service.
The phenomenon itself might make you question the main objective of this new law because unlike three other states with mandatory military conscription listed above, Norway is a member of NATO and does not really need to extend its military or have more conscripts. In fact, the main reason for this recent bill is an aspiration to eliminate any kind of discrimination and promote equality. Norway is already known as one of the most gender equal states in the modern world, and by means of the new law it will reach a new level of equality among its society. The main concept of the bill was voiced by the leader of the Norwegian Labour party Laila Gustavsen who said: “Rights and duties should be the same for everyone”. The main goal of the bill is promotion of gender equality.
At the moment military service is mandatory only for men but women can also serve on a voluntary basis in Norway. In general, women make up around 10% of military draftees now. However, with a new law Norwegian government aims to double the amount of females in the military by 2020.
Norwegian authorities think that this new law will help them attract better soldiers because it essentially doubles the number of individuals liable to military service and, therefore, provides a better selection of conscripts. Moreover, some female soldiers might turn out to be much more successful and have better skills in a number of disciplines. And who knows – perhaps, in several years women will make up a majority in the military in Norway.
So who exactly is going to be drafted? According to the new bill, all medically fit women between 19 and 44 years old will have to go through mandatory military service in armed forces for at least 19 months. It will apply to women born in Norway from 1997 onwards.
All female conscripts will live together with their male counterparts in unisex dormitories, but showers and toilets will be separated. As for the physical requirements, they will be the same for all the conscripts regardless their sex: women will be expected to held the same physical fitness standards as men, and will not be provided any kind of special treatment.
However, if Norway does not need so many conscripts in their army, and still aim to achieve gender equality, why would they not introduce any alternative for military service. As not every person is suitable for the military, and Norway, in fact, does not need everyone to serve, they could take an example from Germany and introduce civilian service instead. The alternative for the military service could be work in a healthcare sector, development sphere or, perhaps, in social services. Service like that could be applicable to both men and women, and at the same time, it would also solve the problem of discrimination caused by limited demand for people in the military. Due to the fact that new selection in the army will be based on the principle that only “the best of the best” regardless sex will be conscripted, many young people will probably feel discriminated as they will not be able to go through the service due to some minor health problems, especially, if they want to serve their country. The Norwegian government still has to solve this problem in order to combat inequity in this respect.
Nevertheless, mandatory military conscription for women, in general, is a positive development. Some people argue that women bring equality only when it is for their own benefit. This new law definitely makes Norwegian society equal and eliminates any kind of accusations of using gender equality only when women can take advantage of it. In fact, gender-neutral conscription seems to be the last thing left for completely even rights and obligations for men and women in Norway.
Some countries already want to follow Norway’s lead in order to achieve gender balance in the military. For example, officials in Switzerland have already started negotiations about extension of the military draft to women.
This new development towards gender equality is expected to be bring good results, and probably in a few years, we will witness military conscription becoming gender-equal in most countries around the world.
By Evgenia Isaeva
Image 1,2,3: Metziker licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0