This article has been contributed by Elizabeth Tan, a girl who wants to do NS – putting many of our men to shame.
92 percent – in every 10 jobs offered in the Israeli Defense Forces (I.D.F), 9 of them are now open to women. These jobs include fighter pilots, infantry officers, naval captains and drivers – about 3 percent of the women in the I.D.F serve in combat roles.
The I.D.F began putting women in combat positions as early as 1985, and while women must take part in compulsory military service, they are conscripted for only two years compared to three for men.
As more and more nations conscript their women and allow them to take up leadership positions within their military, will Singapore one day follow suit?
According to Today last October, the public sentiment was inclined to increasing efforts to advocate and accommodate women volunteerism for the army. This suggests women should have a choice, while men don’t.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am definitely not some hardline feminist who argues along the line of equality amongst men and women – there are some tasks I believe better left to a man to handle, and some others, women.
However, it has long bothered me that National Service (NS) is a ‘male exclusive’ affair. And of course the justifications are plentiful. Some include the physical endowment of men (men tend to be physically stronger than women) and some quoting motherhood – ‘I have to give birth, take care of my kids, what more do you want me to do?’
Firstly, physical strength should not be a prerequisite for military service, after all, men with poor health or physical strength will only be excused from the combat roles but still serve in many other capacities throughout their NS lives.
Discounting the mother from the entire notion of military service simply because she gave birth seems unfair to the father figure in the family – it is as though the mother’s presence is more important and desired in comparison to the father, which is entirely untrue as both roles complement each other. In fact, many say maternity leave and having a uterus sets the women back a whole lot more than men – although it discounts a lot for the single women in our society who are passionate in serving NS.
From my understanding, fathers serving NS can opt for roles that allow them to be at home with their children more often; this alternative can similarly be explored for mothers who are in the military service.
Now, instead of trying to tear down the various justifications of why women shouldn’t be conscripted, let us explore some reasons perhaps why they should sign up for NS.
In accordance to the five pillars of Total Defence, Military Defence is to ‘deter foreign intervention and prevent ourselves from being attacked’, in the later part of the description on the website it says, “While the men do their part, mothers, wives and girlfriends can provide much needed encouragement and support.”
It seems that the role of women in any form is to ‘provide much needed encouragement’, but what are we missing when we reduce the role of women to simply providing encouragement?
Studies revealed that the female combatants in the I.D.F often exhibit ‘superior skills’ in discipline, motivation and while we don’t have much female combatants to do some statistics about in Singapore, I am more than certain we can safely say that women can provide more than simply words of encouragement or helping the men do their laundry when they come home. Women can provide our military with the much-needed expertise that they garnered from their various roles of mothers, wives, girlfriend that will boost our military capabilities rather than hinder it. Women, though not just exclusively to women, is associated more with being more cautious and detailed in comparison to men.
Why shouldn’t we harness the potential in women for the greater benefit of building our defence forces?
There was once when people thought women could only offer words of encouragement and nothing more. These days should be long gone. It should be replaced by a system that maximises the potential of each individual, men or women.
In Israel, the army not only serves as a deterring force against foreign attacks, but also is a means of integrating and building the society. People from different backgrounds, socially, economically perform military service side by side, with the same conditions and rights. This rings especially real in Singapore, where men from various backgrounds, race, and religion come together as one to defend our country.
The opportunity to build a sense of belonging however, belongs currently exclusively to men.
At social functions when men bond over the seemingly two years of ‘torture’ they had for their NS lives and share their vocations, women would have to be waiting for the conversation to swirl in their way only when perhaps fertility rates are discussed.
And when my brother snaps about how ‘you women will never understand what NS is like’, it then makes me wonder, will we ever given an opportunity to know how it must be like? Can this experience then further strengthen the relationships we share with our fathers, brothers, husbands and male friends?
My stand, on this matter, is that women should have their potential recognised and maximised, conscripting women to serve NS provide important social cohesion that cannot be achieved through ‘Family Cohesion Day’ – an important opportunity to connect and not be dismissed as someone who never ‘know how it is like’.
Baby steps can be taken, such as conscripting women for lesser years in comparison to men, and giving them the option for combat roles if they meet the criteria. This opens up more alternatives both for the women and the military.