The decision of the Defence Ministry to allow permanent commission to women officers in the Army is a major milestone in the efforts towards women empowerment. The order, which will pave the way for women officers to shoulder larger roles, applies to Short Service Commissioned (SSC) officers in all the ten streams of the Army. The decision follows a Supreme Court verdict in February, directing the government to grant permanent commission and command postings to women in all services other than combat. About 322 women officers had approached the apex court on the issue. The Centre had initially cited physical and physiological limitations in granting command positions to women officers but the court insisted on bringing about the change in the mindset. Invoking physical or psychological limitations to deny full integration of women into the workforce would amount to gender stereotyping. The government’s argument that male soldiers were not yet ready to accept orders from female officers further strengthens the patriarchal value system. To cast aspersion on their abilities on the ground of gender is an affront not only to their dignity as women but to the dignity of the members of the Army. The equation of military abilities with physical masculinity draws upon false notions and reeks of sexism. Time has come to end such gender stereotypes and realise that women officers in the Army are not adjuncts to a male-dominated establishment. There is ample evidence that the required skillsets in the Army are gender-neutral.
There are 1,653 women officers, accounting for just 4% of the total strength of commissioned officers. At present, woman officers can serve for 10 to 14 years in the Short Service Commission. They are allowed entry into Army Service Corps, Ordnance, Education Corps, Judge Advocate General, Engineers, Signals, Intelligence and Electrical and Mechanical Engineering branches. However, they don’t qualify for a permanent commission, which allows an officer to serve a full tenure and also don’t get the same benefits as their male counterparts. The landmark SC verdict meant that all women officers will be on a par with men in terms of promotions, ranks, benefits and pensions. With one of the largest armies in the world, India has, for a long time, resisted including women in combat roles, citing concerns over their vulnerability if captured and over their physical and mental ability to cope with front-line deployments. The Air Force and Navy offer a permanent commission to women as well as select combat roles but the Army has been reluctant on this front. Most countries employ women in various roles in their armed forces but only a handful, including Australia, Germany, Israel and the United States, allow them to take on combat roles.
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