Home' Defence Review Asia : DRA May-June 2017 Contents 32 DefenceReviewAsia | MAY/JUNE 2017
Defence Academy. This acts as a bar to permanent
commissions, and severely stymies promotion to
higher ranks across the service branches. Women are
also not eligible for Non-Commissioned Officer ranks.
The other regional power, Pakistan, has allowed
women to serve in the armed forces since
Independence in 1947. Presently, there are around
4,000 servicewomen. In one sense, the ‘glass
ceiling’ was broken in 2015 when Pakistan’s third
female general was appointed, but generally women
have only been allowed to enter combat support
positions. The experience of women in the air force,
for instance, has been a case of two steps forward,
one step back. In 2003, women for the first time were
allowed to enter the Flying
and Engineering Branches on
permanent commissions. The
policy was then discontinued,
but restarted again in 2006.
After 2008, women were
inducted into engineering but
not flying. In 2010, women
were once again allowed
to train as fighter pilots, but
from 2016 only short-term
commissions were offered.
Presently, there are 11 women
piloting transport aircraft and
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,
though none in fighter
Of the other countries in
the Subcontinent, Bangladesh
has accepted women in its
armed forces since 2003.
Presently, over 15,000 women
are serving, but only in support
roles. By comparison, women
were allowed to join Sri
Lanka’s military in the 1970s.
Perhaps due to the prolonged
conflict experienced in the
country, female personnel have
been tasked with many front
line duties, and attached to
combat units, including the
paratroops. However, they
do face limitations in some
'direct combat' duties, such as
Special Forces and fast attack
In Southeast Asia, two
countries stand out for their
military gender equality
policies. The first is the
Philippines, which since 1993 has positioned
women “as full and equal partners of men” through
the 1992 Republic Act No. 7192. This policy allows
women to enter the Military Academy and embark
on meaningful career paths. Gender equality was
further strengthened by the inclusion of a passage
in the 2010 Magna Carta that Women should face
“Non-discrimination in employment in the military,
police and other similar services, according them
the same promotional privileges and opportunities
as their male counterparts”. This meant that Filipino
servicewomen could serve in GCC roles. Indeed, in
2015, the Kampilan division, a combat unit consisting
of 5,000 service personnel, including 87 women, was
operating in the conflict zone of Central Mindanao,
and was prepared to engage in ground close combat.
However, only two percent of the Philippine’s
combat units comprise women - principally a
throwback to the five percent cap on the military
academy accepting women cadets prior to the
Magna Carta. After 2010, the cap was increased
to 30 per cent, and later scrapped. As a result, the
numbers of female recruits steadily increased. The
Philippines appointed its first female commander for
a peacekeeping operation (Haiti, 2013), and its first
female commanding officer of a Naval ship (2014).
Significantly, the Armed Forces of the Philippines in
August 2015 declared itself to be a non-gendered
organisation, providing equal opportunity for female
soldiers and members of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay,
bisexual, transgender and queer) communities,
though cross-dressing is strictly prohibited.
The second country offering the full spectrum of
military roles is Singapore’s Armed Forces (SAF).
The army recruited its first women combatants in
1986, but women have never been conscripted.
There are currently about 1,500 uniformed women
in the SAF, making up 7 percent of the total
establishment. Singapore's first female one-star
general was appointed in 2015. Since 1986, the
SAF has allowed women to serve in combat roles,
including artillery gunners, pilots and intelligence
analysts, though not GCC. In 2004, the MINDEF
began to assign women as mortar platoon leaders
in infantry units. There are three female pilots flying
F-16 and F-15 combat aircraft.
Today, women in traditionally male-dominated
Asian societies are gaining greater access to the full
range of military roles, reflecting international trends.
Progress on female military empowerment is clearly
happening, but it has been cautious and incremental.
Of the 11 Asian states listed in Table 1, only two
allow women access to full GCC roles.
The flip side is that just three states offer women no
roles at the front-line, and six have recognised gender
equality to stage 3, Non-Direct Combat. Yet, for all
this progress, cultural and sexual stereotypes persist.
In Australia, a scandal involving an ADF Academy
female cadet triggered other reports of sexual
abuse going back 20 years. In South Korea, a 2013
National Human Rights Commission found that close
to 12% of military women had experienced sexual
harassment. Without doubt, the greatest female sexual
exploitation occurs in North Korea. Defectors report
that servicewomen suffer health and hygiene problems
and are also routinely raped by senior officers. It
would seem that whilst Asia’s women warriors are
finally achieving parity with their male colleagues, the
challenges of discrimination and harassment remain.
Able Seaman Boatswains Mate Morgan Mitchell stands by ready to drive
the sea boat of HMAS Newcastle during Exercise OCEAN RAIDER.
Credit: CoA / Peter Thompson
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