India has signalled a radical move towards gender parity in one of the most male-dominated professions in the world, with President Pranab Mukherjee announcing that the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force will recruit women for all combat roles.
Although armed forces of many countries employ women in various roles, only Australia, Germany, Israel and the US have so far allowed them to play fighting or combat roles. In the past, India was not interested in making such a move, as the South Asian country was very much concerned over women’s vulnerability, if captured. Also, New Delhi had a doubt over women’s physical and mental ability to cope with the stress of frontline deployments.
However, the country with one of the largest armies in the world has hinted a change in its age-old defence recruitment policy. Addressing both Houses of the Indian Parliament (on Tuesday) ahead of the Budget Session, President Mukherjee said that the Narendra Modi government recently approved the induction of women as short service commission officers and also as fighter pilots in the Indian Air Force (IAF). The president stressed that “the government will induct women in all the fighter streams of our armed forces” in near future.
The head of the state explained that ‘Shakti’ or ‘Power’ is the manifestation of female energy, as far as the Indian culture is concerned. “This power defines our strength,” added the president while praising women for their success in different fields. India started recruiting women to non-medical positions in the armed forces in 1992, but just 2.5% of the country’s more than one million personnel are women. Many of these women work as administrators, intelligence officers, doctors, nurses or dentists.
In October 2015, the Indian government decided to bring women into fighting roles and approved plans prepared by the IAF for women pilots to fly fighter jets from June 2017 on a three-year trial basis.
Meanwhile, women’s rights activists have welcomed the president’s announcement, saying that bringing real gender parity into the armed forces should be a slow process.