“Participants also suggested that the service can last anything between six months and two years, and that it can comprise combat and non-combat courses” (Let Women Decide Whether To Serve NS, Mr. Elgin Toh).
The Straits Times ran an interesting report, “Let Women Decide Whether to Serve NS” (May 12, 2013) by Mr. Elgin Toh, detailing female perspectives about National Service (NS) from an Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) session on “forging a stronger national identity”. In my personal opinion, the eventual decision on whether women should assume military responsibilities should be premised upon necessity; that is, if the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) – with strategic justifications or unprecedented manpower requirements – deems it pivotal for women to serve, then this option can be exercised judiciously.
That aside, student Miss Heng Jia Min raised a meaningful proposition, that she “would like to be given at least the option of serving NS”. In other words, there are some who would voluntarily enlist in the army, if such an arrangement was made possible by the administration. What might appear to be a whimsical proposal should be taken seriously by MINDEF, since the offer would prove to be attractive to female Singaporeans – like Miss Heng – who might like to commit to a substantial period of time (for instance, six to twelve months) in service. More importantly, instead of disrupting the status quo, I believe there are only benefits associated with such an endeavour. Why deny them a chance to assume such responsibilities if they express their desire and willingness to?
The challenge for the administration would be to identify or design suitable occupations and vocations for these individuals, probably based on their skill-sets and abilities. Overseas examples – Israel in particular – show that females are no less capable of contributing constructively in the military as compared to their male counterparts. They can fulfil an assortment of combat and non-combat roles, instead of being pigeon-holed into traditional, stereotypical assignments (welfare workers, nurses, administrative or technical operators).
Why wait? When the preparations are complete, let us roll such an initiative out.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.