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No to female conscription

By on 24 May 2015

Female conscription in NorwayFemale conscription  was adopted by the Norwegian Parliament on 14 June 2013 with only the Christian Democrats voting against, and now female conscription is being implemented.

Among  the feminist organizations protesting against female conscription,  were the Norwegian Association for Women’s Rights (Norsk Kvinnesaksforening, NKF, the Norwegian Section of the International Alliance of Women, IAW) and the Norwegian Section of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, WILPF.   

On 3 February 2007 and 27 April 2013 the National Board of the Norwegian Association for Women’s Rights, NKF (Norwegian  member of the International Alliance of Women) adopted the following statement: 

The Norwegian Ministry of Defence has for a long time been determined  to recruit women. In 2004, Parliament set a goal of 15 percent women in the armed forces and 25 percent in the officer candidate schools by 2008. To achieve this, women were called up by the draft board to do voluntary military service. If voluntariness did not produce the desired results, the Minister of Defence would propose compulsory military service for women.

The Norwegian Association for Women’s Rights (NKF) is not opposed to women voluntarily seeking a career in the military if they want to, and the way the system works today, women have the same opportunities as men to join the armed forces. Conscription is something else – it includes everybody and entails the use of force. NKF strongly warns against the exertion of pressure to get women into the military and particularly the introduction of female conscription.

It is difficult to understand why the Ministry of Defence tries to recruit more women in a situation where only a small minority of men actually performs military service. The arguments are put forward that women and men must be treated equally, that women will help maintain the legitimacy of conscription and that they will contribute to better defence.

Misconceived equality
The Norwegian Association for Women’s Rights (NKF) considers female conscription as a misunderstanding of the concept of gender equality and the intentions of the Law on Equality. Gender equality implies first and foremost that women and men should have the same human rights and fundamental freedoms. Women should be valued and allocated power and resources on equal terms with men. But women and men do not have to be alike or do the same things to be equal.

To ensure gender equality it is important in many cases that women and men are treated equally. But they should not necessarily be treated equally in all situations. In some cases, the underprivileged gender must be favoured to be able obtain similar results. Actual differences between the lives of women and men must be taken into account. Women make an important contribution to society by becoming pregnant, giving birth and breast-feeding. Despite many years of active equality policy in Norway, women still bear the heaviest burden for children, sick and old people. Their efforts in this area are extensive and socially beneficial. But although women often are double working, they still earn less than men, own much less than men, have lower pension and are underrepresented in positions of power and influence. To impose a new burden such as conscription on women in this situation is unreasonable, and it can increase the economic and social gender gaps in society. Instead of equality the result will be greater inequality.

In NKF’s view, real gender equality implies more than the incorporation of women into a social structure formed by men. Women should have the same opportunities as men to determine the organization of society. In the efforts to promote equality there is a risk that the stronger party shapes the weaker in its image. Over the past decades, women’s roles have changed significantly more than men’s. Thus values ​​and practices that have traditionally characterized men’s roles, have been strengthened, while values ​​and practices that women traditionally have taken care of, have been weakened. In the current situation, however, the challenge is to strengthen women’s power and influence and promote better care practices and values such as equal status.   

Militarization of women
Forcing women to do military service to legitimize it is completely untenable. Problems related to conscription must be resolved on their own terms, not by bringing in a new, hitherto outsider group.

It is unclear what is meant when it is stated that the recruitment of women should lead to “better” defence. It is an illusion to believe that the inclusion of  women in the military machinery at a low level, will lead to a significant change of structures and attitudes. Although women can increase the diversity, they are not supposed to change the strictly hierarchical organization of the military, which is characterized by absolute obedience on the grounds, that the soldiers should learn to defend themselves, use violence and, if necessary, kill. Newcomers are integrated into the system and the prevailing culture, and women are particularly exposed in such a male dominated organization. The result is that women are militarized, and the military is essentially not changed.

Important to focus on non-violence
It is the view of NKF that in today’s world it is more important to increase the focus of both women and men on disarmament, non-violent conflict resolution, peacekeeping, peace negotiations and the reconstruction of communities than to broaden the basis for military activities. Instead of military service, enthusiastic young people who want to contribute to international peacekeeping, should be offered training and assigned tasks on this basis.

 

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About the Author

About the Author: Torild Skard is a psychologist, a former Member of Parliament in Norway, President of its upper chamber, Director for women's issues at UNESCO in Paris, Director-General of the Multilateral Division and Deputy Secretary-General for international development at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chairman of the UNICEF Executive Board, Regional Director for West and Central Africa at UNICEF, and most recently a Senior Researcher at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. She is a former President of IAW's Norwegian affiliate, the Norwegian Association for Women's Rights. .

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