Women in Armed Forces

2023 DEC 8

Mains   > Society   >   Role of women   >   Women and Child issues

Syllabus: GS 1> Society   >   Role of women   >   Women and Child issues


  • Recently, the Prime Minister said the government is committed to increasing the strength of women in the armed forces while speaking on the occasion of Navy Day (December 4).


  • Women officers were first inducted in the military nursing service in 1927 and as medical officers in 1943.
  • In 1992, women were made eligible for appointment as officers in certain specific cadres such as Judge Advocate General (JAG) and Army Education Corps (AEC). Women were initially brought in for 5 years of service, which was then converted into Short Service Commission (SSC). However, women were not given the choice to opt for permanent commission at the end of their 10-year service. 
  • In 2008, permanent commission was extended to women in streams of Judge Advocate General and Army Education Corps.
  • In 2019, the government decided to grant permanent commission to women in all 10 branches where they are inducted for Short Service Commission. However, the benefit was not applicable retrospectively and thus ruled out the women officers in the job now.
  • In 2010, Delhi High Court granted eligibility to women officers for permanent commission in the Army. However, the central government appealed against this in the Supreme Court.
  • In 2020, the Supreme Court ordered the government to grant permanent commission to women officers in the Army’s noncombat support units on par with their male counterparts.SC rejected the government contention that women are "physiologically weak" to be granted permanent commission and command appointments. It called this argument emanating from a deeply ingrained gender stereotype in the Indian society which regards a man as being dominant and women are considered weak links and caregivers only.
  • In 2021, the Indian Navy deployed four women officers onboard its warships after a gap of around 23 years.For the first time in 1998, women officers started getting deployed onboard warships but the decision was changed soon after due to certain logistical and other issues.
  • In May 2021, the first batch of 83 women soldiers was inducted into the Indian Army's military police.


  • Building trust and confidence: 
    • Women in the armed forces could act as essential enablers to build trust and confidence with local communities.
    • For instance, unlike their male counterparts, women in the armed forces can easily interact with local women and gather support and information.
  • To improve retention and recruitment rates:
    • The armed forces are severely troubled by falling retention and recruitment rates, which can be addressed by allowing women to serve in combat roles.
  • Inspiring and creating role models:
    • Women in the armed forces serve as powerful mentors and role models for women and girls in society, setting examples for them to advocate for their own rights and pursue non-traditional careers.
  • Improved operations and performance:
    • Greater diversity and a broadened skillset mean improved decision-making, planning, and results, leading to greater operational effectiveness and performance.
  • Gender is not a hindrance to ability:
    • As long as an applicant is qualified for a position, one’s gender is arbitrary. It is possible to calibrate recruitment and training standards for women.
    • In modern, high-technology warfaretechnical expertise and decision-making skills are increasingly more valuable than simple brute strength.
  • Promotion and career advancement:
    • As combat duty is usually regarded as necessary for promotion to senior officer positions, denying female personnel this experience ensures that very few will ever reach the highest reaches of the military, which further entrenches sexism.
    • In the army, women have to be given the same opportunities as men, and in order to have the same opportunities, they have to be exposed to the same risks.
  • Effectiveness:
    • The blanket restriction for women limits the ability of commanders in theater to pick the most capable person for the job.

Women in Foreign Armies:

  • United States:
    • In the US Army women make up about 15.7 per cent of the Active Army strength and serve in 95 per cent of all Army assignments. They have been participating in various operations, albeit in support functions, however, on voluntary basis few have also being assigned certain ‘combat support’ duties.
  • Israel:
    • Israel is one of the only few countries in the world (along with Norway and Eritrea) with a mandatory military service requirement for women. As of now, 88% to 92% of all operational roles in the  Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are open to female candidates.
  • Britain:
    • Women are able to apply for most jobs in the Army except those whose "primary duty is to close in with and kill the enemy": Infantry, Cavalry, Armoured Corps are currently not open to women. Women constitute 9.1% of the total strength, 11.2% of the officer cadre and 8.7% of the other ranks.
  • China:
    • Chinese women comprise about 4.5 per cent of PLA. Nearly all women soldiers serve in military support positions and are concentrated in headquarters, hospitals, research institutions, and communication facilities. There are no women in ground combat role.


  • The distinct nature of the armed forces:
    • The army necessarily differs from civil society. 
    • On the battlefield, it's essential to focus on maximising combat efficiency and preparedness. Despite advancements in weapon technology, close ground combat primarily relies on physical strength. 
    • For instance, studies by the Centre for Military Readiness show that, on average, female soldiers are smaller and have 45-50% less upper body strength and 25-30% less aerobic capacity compared to men, impacting endurance.
  • Abuse and torture by the enemy:
    • Both men and women are at risk of torture in the event of being captured by the enemy. Both male and female prisoners are at risk of torture, but misogynistic societies may be more willing to abuse female prisoners, and women are more vulnerable to this torture.
  • Women are not given due recognition:
    • Most women in the armed forces feel that their competence is not given due recognition.
    • Seniors tend to be overindulgent without valuing their views. They are generally marginalized and not involved in major decision-making.
    • Many women complain that despite their technical qualifications, they are generally detailed for what are perceived as woman-like jobs, like routine desk work.
  • Deployment Restrictions:
    • The bulk of the Indian Army (IA) is deployed primarily in difficult and rugged areas.
    • The posts are isolated, sans any basic facilities, and cut off for months, and the operational tasks warrant working in close proximity with men. Protracted and solitary deployment of women officers under such circumstances has attendant issues and restricts their employment.


  • Reform Military Culture: 
    • Move away from a patriarchal mindset and gradually integrate women into all military ranks and disciplines.
  • Equalize Fitness Standards:
    • Set physical fitness benchmarks for female service members that are comparable to the standards for male soldiers, ensuring parity, especially in combat arms and Special Forces.
  • Adjust Training and Recruitment: 
    • Align standards with role requirements, not gender, and adapt physical training for effectiveness.
  • Improve Support and Facilities
    • Enhance infrastructure and healthcare for women, especially in remote areas.
  • Promote Gender Equality: 
    • Implement gender sensitivity training and policies within the forces.
  • Recognition and Involvement: 
    • Involve women in decision-making and recognize their contributions equally.
  • Expand Combat Roles: 
    • Open more combat positions to women based on capabilities.
  • Career Development: 
    • Ensure equal advancement opportunities, including in leadership roles.
  • Policy Review and Adaptation: 
    • Continuously update practices based on feedback and evolving warfare.
  • Learn from Global Practices: 
    • Analyze successful integration of women in military roles globally.
  • Raise Public Awareness:
    • Change societal perceptions about women in the military through public education.


  • With future war fighting becoming more sophisticated and technologically advanced, there is a need to exploit the large pool of skilled female recruits available and enhance their induction into all ranks in the armed forces. Women should be employed across the entire spectrum of armed forces in a phased manner based on competencies and qualifications.


Q. "Women should be deployed across the full range of military roles in a structured, phase-wise manner, focusing on their competencies and qualifications." Critically Analyse. (15 marks, 250 words)