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The Straits Times

An Option For Women To Serve National Service?

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).

Student Miss Heng Jia Min raised a meaningful proposition, that she “would like to be given at least the option of serving NS”.

Student Miss Heng Jia Min raised a meaningful proposition, that she “would like to be given at least the option of serving NS”.

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.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


24 thoughts on “An Option For Women To Serve National Service?

  1. I have been interested in the possibility of women serving NS for a long time, so allow me to share some points of information and perspective.

    Firstly, I think it would be great if this option is opened up to women. However, I am personally skeptical that many would take it up – including Miss Heng Jia Min. Talk is cheap, and it’s easy to ask to be “given a choice”.

    Secondly, I think you might want to substantiate your statement that “females are no less capable of contributing constructively in the military as compared to their male counterparts”. Yes, females in Israel do serve NS, but you will find the distribution of their roles is much less combat than their males counterparts. I once read a study (either by UK or Israel) that concluded that having women in the front line actually negatively affected the performance of the unit as a whole, because the male soldiers had a biological tendency to be much more protective of their ladies and this reduced their combat effectiveness. The leading Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld has also written at great length to argue why the IDF should not take in women.

    Sharing my perception of reality … I would be happy to be proven wrong 🙂

    Posted by ndru1 | May 13, 2013, 1:53 pm
    • Then we’ll definitely have to see. Unless the opening up of such an option would require a disproportionate investment of manpower and resources, I think it’ll be interesting to see how many might actually take up the offer. Perhaps a survey to gauge interest (beyond the OSC session)?

      I think that’s where my lack of cognisance of military knowledge fails me (any recommendations to start me of)? I still stand by my proposition though, because it was stated very generally; that is, unless women are indeed incapable of passing certain vocational or training requirements, they should be given the chance or opportunity to attempt any and all roles and responsibilities.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | May 13, 2013, 2:44 pm
    • From my point of view I think it should be compulsory for girls to go through National service. Why should girls be treated differently? Girls should alteast have compulsory training for one year. I also feel that National service for boys is too long and it should be cut down.
      Some of the youngsters are very spoilt as they have not experienced hardship.One can see from their behaviour in public places like MRT and buses .They only seems to want to have fun and more fun.
      The american influence is here to stay. National service will do them a world of good.
      Besides that incase of war all the foreign nurses will go back to their country and we know that there is a shortage of nurses in Singapore. In that case who will tend to the sick and injured ? Women could then be called upon to play their part for Singapore too. They should be trained in First aid, Nursing and Self defence.

      Posted by sha | July 25, 2013, 6:58 pm
  2. Let’s not kid ourselves. We all know Heng Jia Min is an exception. It doesn’t take research or even much thought for one to conclude that most Singaporean women will not volunteer for NS. In fact, I’m not surprised if Jia Min is being heckled/ridiculed/whacked by her girlfriends (or even her young female form teacher) for her suggestion.

    Yet, I can’t help but admire girls like her. Singapore needs more of such women. I salute you (literally), Ms. Heng.

    And Puthucheary chairing that session was just one bad joke.

    Posted by IGoCrazyBecauseOfYou | May 13, 2013, 1:57 pm
    • Let’s give it a shot then? As mentioned to another comment, if it does not take up unreasonable amounts of resources, such an arrangement wouldn’t be detrimental at all.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | May 13, 2013, 2:45 pm
      • Honestly, what better way than to fill the gap between JC and university? I think plenty of girls would consider it a viable alternative to bumming at home.

        Posted by Marasme | May 16, 2013, 4:54 am
  3. /// 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. ///

    I think this is such a non-starter and no-brainer. We cannot make NS optional – either you do it or you don’t. Not when you feel like it. How about, letting the boys have the option of whether they want to serve NS? Straight away you can see the absurdity of such a proposition.

    Miss Heng – you already have this option – go sign up with the SAF now. Better still, you will be paid. Many women in Singapore have signed up with the SAF, whether in uniform or NUSAF,

    No special administration is needed. Just go to CMPB (or CWPB or whatever it is called now) and signed up.

    Posted by The | May 13, 2013, 3:06 pm
    • Why not? The desire to experience NS does not necessarily equate to the desire of being employed in the military. In other words, I might want to experience NS for a substantial period of six to twelve months (not possible now), but not commit to MINDEF as a career (which is what you’ve highlighted).

      The proposition sounds absurd, because it is compared to the mandatory two years Singaporean men have to go through. Yet the proposal is more straightforward, and more specific. It is not about making NS “optional”; rather, it is about opening up an option for women who want to serve, to serve.

      We can go into another conversation on challenging that status quo – that is, whether anyone at all should serve NS (“have the option of whether they want to serve NS”) – but that is not the point of this piece. This is about a potential arrangement for women like Miss Heng to take up without signing on. No harm done.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | May 13, 2013, 3:15 pm
      • Do we want to come up with the machinery just so that Miss Heng and a few of her ilk can have the thrill of a few months of playing soldier? Do we create a battalion or company of 8 female NS-wannabes? How many army-issued bras should MINDEF indent for these female optional feel-like-it enlistees? 2 pairs, 20 pairs, 200 pairs, 2000 pairs or 20,000 pairs? You get my drift.

        Posted by The | May 13, 2013, 5:25 pm
      • So beyond the logistical / administrative hassle you highlighted (that is, if it hypothetically not an issue), are you still opposed to the proposal?

        Jin Yao

        Posted by guanyinmiao | May 13, 2013, 5:50 pm
      • Yes, absolutely. I think it is quite flippant and frivolous to suggest something so sensitive and sore with guys having COMPULSORY NS to create a separate scheme, administrations, separate bunks, toilets, etc. etc. so that the young ladies can have the OPTION of doing NS. What if there are only 3 people like Miss Heng? Do you set up a platoon of 3 people. We will have more instructors than trainees. We book the whole firing range just for 3 persons. Indent a 3-tonner for 3 recruits? Or maybe we should give them an air-coned GP car?

        As I said, those who are patriotic and those who want a taste of military life can always sign up as a regular. Or they can sign up for NUSAF and ask to be given BMT – just a couple of months.

        I think Miss Heng is being facetious. Worse, she’s rubbing salt into the wounds of male enlistees.

        Posted by The | May 14, 2013, 10:41 am
      • Maybe so. I don’t want to guess Miss Heng’s intentions though.

        I get where you are coming from. Hypothetically if logistical / administrative issues were not a concern (for instance, having minimum quotas, selection or proficiency tests), and we went ahead with such a proposal, there could be two general, dissimilar outcomes (and this is where we differ). The first camp would maintain that it “rub[s] salt into the wounds of male enlistees”, because it renders the gender disparity more obvious – that men have to serve and women don’t, and now the latter gets an option to experience it if they desire – and might displease some. This discourse is a long-standing one, and deserves a separate commentary. The second camp would posit that since these female individuals with interest are far and few between, then their immersion in military experience can build greater empathy and sensitivity (beyond, say, support or “comprehension” of their male counterparts). Perhaps these two scenarios are not mutually exclusive, but I believe the after-effects of the second situation would be positive.

        Jin Yao

        Posted by guanyinmiao | May 14, 2013, 10:51 am
    • If I might add on, my apologies. Correct me if I am wrong.

      If I were to paraphrase your contention, you are positing: while there might be nothing ostensibly wrong with such an arrangement of allowing women to take up NS for a period of six to twelve months (at least, that’s my opinion), it could amplify perceived gender disparities / injustice. Is this accurate?

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | May 13, 2013, 3:22 pm
  4. OK I know this totally unrelated, but I seriously wonder what will be their reaction if NS were to be on the verge of becoming compulsory for them… Would love to see the response of them feminist groups (e.g. AWARE).

    Omg so exciting. Haha.

    Posted by IGoCrazyBecauseOfYou | May 13, 2013, 4:12 pm
  5. Miss Heng: Boeing, please build me a new plane B797. I want these plane to fly only 50 to 100 km per trip. Sorry, no firm orders, but I may want an option of 1 plane.

    Posted by The | May 14, 2013, 9:55 pm
  6. “… if it does not take up unreasonable amounts of resources, such an arrangement wouldn’t be detrimental at all.”

    Yep my sentiments exactly.

    Anyway, I subscribe to the notion that having women in the frontlines will adversely affect the combat-effectiveness of their male counterparts (unless they operate by themselves). Still, they can always serve in other supporting roles.

    Posted by IGoCrazyBecauseOfYou | May 15, 2013, 3:23 am
  7. Please lah… Every woman today has the option of doing national service. It’s called signing on. The first 6-12 mths of life for a regular and NSF are identical because of bmt, command school, trade courses etc. the woman can get regular pay and “quit” from her job anytime she feels like it.

    The suggestion just shows how shallow our women’s understanding of NS is, and how easy it is to make ridiculous statements at OSC. Talk is really cheap, especially on the internet!

    Posted by Marty | May 17, 2013, 9:20 pm
    • Please lah… Don’t generalise, and posit that “our women’s understanding of NS is … shallow”. Also, the OSC has its shortcomings, but not because of the reason(s) (if there are any) you have suggested. And if you insist, I apologise for my “cheap talk”.

      Is there a difference between the status quo (the one you’ve described) and the proposal Miss Heng tabled? Yes. The difference is commitment. The former would ask for one to train and prepare for the long-term, to commit to a considerable period of service in the military (yes you can “quit”, but that is not the intent of this particular career progression), and latter is an option to commit to a shorter period of service. In other words, option one (“Would you like to sign on with the army, but you can drop out whenever you want to”), and option two (“Would you like to commit to a six-month period in the military?”).

      What could happen from here is for: i. greater awareness of the career schemes within the military; and ii. the administration can base a new scheme for women on the one for service-woman who sign on. Before the second, when the Government or MINDEF does a survey to gauge the potential take-up rate, and the results will provide more grounds for discourse. No harm done; in fact, it will open up the age-old debate on whether women should serve, albeit with more up-to-date statistics and information.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | May 17, 2013, 9:47 pm
  8. Optional national service is a contradiction in terms. It’s either optional or voluntary. Voluntary service in Singapore is called regular service. This is one of the silliest suggestions I’ve heard that has gotten such an airing in the media.

    Posted by Flecken | May 17, 2013, 9:27 pm
  9. Skeptics might respond that known gays and lesbians do not serve in combat units, and we acknowledge that the survey results presented above do not distinguish between women who served in combat areas and those who did not. That said, statistical evidence from foreign militaries may be relevant to determining whether known gays serve in U.S. combat units. In 2000, Kaplan and Belkin asked 194 combat soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) if they knew a gay peer in their unit. [43] They found that 21.6 percent of respondents knew a gay peer in their unit, and an additional 19.6 percent may have known a gay peer in their unit. The claim that no known gays serve in U.S. combat units may not have any more validity than the claim that none serve in Israeli combat units.

    Posted by Jeff Bailey | May 30, 2013, 9:19 pm


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