“The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” – Ayn Rand
Women cannot be efficient pilots or work in the armed forces. They are best suited for‘soft jobs’ as they cannot work in high-pressure environments, so on and so forth. Do these or any of their variants sound familiar? Stereotyping is a very real issue that a lot of women face.
The Indian Air Force, on a mission to break the existing glass ceiling, has announced that the first batch of Indian women will begin to train as fighter pilots, with the Ministry of Defence giving its nod for their induction in combat roles, the first Indian women combat pilots will be in the cockpits of frontline fighter jets of the Air Force in June 2017, making IAF the first of the three services to have women in active front-line combat roles. In 2010, women in the Army and the Air Force were allowed full term service by the Delhi High Court and in September 2015, women naval officers also scored this milestone. Till five years ago, women military officers were entitled only to a limited service span. The winds of change have started to blow.
However, there is still the question of women being permitted into active combat duties, serving on the front line of the war. India has still deemed it unsafe for women to participate in active combat, even US has only inducted women into active combat fairly recently. At a time where women are taking leaps and bounds towards empowerment and stepping out of the boundaries of traditional gender roles, it does seem a bit too dated, especially in the modern world of combat where all women serving in the military are exposed to “front-line risks”. Till very recently, women were banned from active combat roles in the US armed forces since they believed that if women were taken in as prisoners of war, the emotional, physical and sexual trauma and abuse that they might potentially undergo might be higher, and a lot more was at stake. To counter that claim, that remains true for men as well. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a very common form of mental health condition that has symptoms ranging from flashbacks, nightmares and intense trauma and is found in war veterans. Going by that notion, a country should have no armed forces at all.
When an individual signs up for military service, he is doing so being fully aware of the risks his job poses, similarly, if women are permitted in active combat, those women who sign up for being a part of the armed forces will be doing so, being fully aware of what they will face and yet being passionate enough to do so. If one looks back into history, there were a lot of instances where women led the front lines of war. From Joan of Arc in France to Captain Lakshmi of the Indian National Army. The first Short Service Commission batch was inducted in 1993. Even though history has shown the prowess of women in military capabilities, independent India was hesitant to include them.
So, where is the problem? As a matter of personal opinion, I believe, in the Indian society, it is mainly due to traditional gender roles assigned to women. Women are expected to cook and clean, get married and bear children. Nothing more or less, else, they will not fit into the mould of a being a good Indian girl. Joining the army or going into something which is essentially male-dominated is not only discouraged, but also met with scorn. Statements such as, “if you do something so masculine, you are not even a woman,” are heard quite liberally, from the grandparents and the next-door uncle-aunty to the maidservant, in a society that thrives on knowing exactly what the next person is doing and judging them for it.
When a man joins the armed forces, he is thought of as very patriotic and treated as a hero or a martyr who sacrificed his life for the nation, if the unfortunate happens. Once a woman is put in the same shoes, the tone changes. She becomes the ungrateful daughter who went away to do something she was very adamant to do and had the disrespect to die doing it, leaving her parents to fend for themselves. She is regarded as nothing more than a bad example of what could have happened.
This can be put to a stop only when little girls are not ridiculed for playing with toy guns instead of Barbie dolls. What we, as a country, as a body of social consciousness, must realise is that as long as someone is qualified for a position, gender does not really matter. Besides, it is far more easy to recruit women who are fitter than a lot of men sent into combat, by calibrating recruitment and training standards to women. Another plus point is that having a mixed gender force keeps the military strong, and have better readiness. There is also the cultural and demographic difference to be considered. In some circumstances, women are actually more effective than men, specifically, in cases of sexual violence during armed conflict, women tend to have better inter-personal skills than a lot of men. This could help the military to recruit soldiers who work to end conflicts faster and more effectively.
The path ahead might be torturous and winding, and task will be a Herculean feat, however we must never despair, for the day we long for, where women shall chose to no longer be apologetic for their femaleness and femininity and be respected in all of femaleness and are treated with absolute parity with men and permitted into active combat roles, is close at hand.
Photo Credit: Annachira Shivkumar (Flickr)