I write so I can breathe. I am constantly evolving, mindless at times, frustrating even perhaps but heck, I wouldn't change the smell of freedom that comes with writing.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Armed Forces - A Raw Deal for Women?

Is it an unfair deal or not for the Women Officers in the Armed Forces…

When the Armed Forces decided to take in Women Officer, not “Lady”, the initial commission was for duration of seven years, extend-able by two plus one more year, which makes it ten years in all. Agreed, all of us who joined were aware of just how long our career in the Armed Forces will last. It was a challenge taken up and women joined. It was entirely the individual’s call so the clarity in the extendability of the career in the Forces was pretty much there. No cribs on that point. I know that I joined for seven years with a fervent hope that the extensions may, in seven years time, change to a permanent commission. Call it patriotism or a show of it or whatever one pleases to judge it as; it was a matter of honour and pride to be given the opportunity to serve the country. Possibility is like hope. It keeps you going. Such honour to serve your country is rare. If you are given the opportunity to do it, do it right.

Why on earth did the Government even permit women to join the Forces if they wanted to protect their women? It is unfair to consider protecting them. The Forces are there to protect the nation not protect women alone. I have, during my commission, seen women perform way better. Only, they had to work twice as hard to simply prove themselves because, working just as hard as the men only would have produced terrible Officers. To touch upon something really sensitive, I have seen the gentlemen officers just sit and sham while the women worked. If a woman officer was ever seen not working and simply lazing it out, like any other Officer, it would elicit a statement like, “Whoever wanted them to be in the Forces? Look at them, good for nothing.” At the same time, if a gentleman officer was sitting around doing nothing, one would simply say, “Taking a break, are you?” Double standards and hypocrisy is what this is.

Why not combat? Don’t men get raped? If one believes they don’t, one is living in Utopia. Joining the Forces and taking the Oath for serving the country is the same isn’t it? We said the same things – did we not mean them? I wanted to be a diver, to join the Naval Intel Cadre – did I get it? No. It’s too dangerous! It simply is an underestimation of the guts women have. Deciding to join the Forces was as far as the risk went. After that, it’s not a thought to be considered. The men made the rules. The instinct of protecting their women in the Forces seems such a farce. The taxpayers’ money, which paid me my salary in the Armed Forces, was not for getting women into a fold and then protecting them. It is, I believe, more a question of mistrust. I went through the same tests to get commissioned. Why discriminate later? I remember ever so clearly objecting to being addressed as a lady whenever there was a briefing in office. Why Lady? Was I not wearing the same uniform? Was I not earning the same salary, enjoying the same allowances and perks and working hours? I’ve worked as hard as any other Officer, so why not address me as an Officer? If I only wanted to be a lady, serving in the military would not even cross my mind.

Yes, it is definitely being politically incorrect and medieval to say “ I would like to point out that even in this day and age, most women still think twice about going out for a walk, unaccompanied, late at night…. because of the probable risk of getting mugged or raped”. Brothers, cousins, fathers, uncles, husbands too rape women in their homes…save your protective instincts for them. When women join the Forces, they are taught to take care of themselves. I know I am sounding sarcastic but sexual favours and forced intercourse doesn’t happen in war periods alone. In the Armed Forces, how many are even aware of what goes on? Court martial happens, suicides happen, the media makes a great selling out of it and then everything dies down. Life moves on.

It is really a mixed bag! Unfair yes! Raw deal? No. All women know what call they have taken when they join the Armed Forces. If it’s a test of nerves and I fail the test to enter combat cadres, it’s fair. If I am unable to hold a weapon and use it properly, it’s fair. If I am not intelligent or resourceful enough to be in the intelligence cadre, it’s fair. If I am incapable of becoming a qualified instructor, it’s fair. If I do not have the stamina to sustain and pass the divers course, it’s fair. What is not fair is not being permitted to even try even when you fit all the qualifications required to fit the profile and are not given a chance just because you are female and not male. Even the word ‘female’ has ‘male’ in it for goodness sake!

Raw deal is not what the women got in the Armed Forces, not entirely. Some just never transited from a lady to being an Officer. That’s where the women crib and not understand. Why seek excuses to be excused from carrying out duties because you have your periods? It’s not as if you will die if you work when you have your periods! I know the number of times I’ve been asked to repeatedly do night duties because some woman officer colleague of mine gave such a sorry excuse to simply bunk work! Have fun, yes, but never shun duties. Why crib about a raw deal when you make that for yourself?

One may question as to why then did I not extend my commission beyond seven years. I had personal and official reasons. Personal, I need not bring in here because it is my reason, and does not speak for other women officers. My official reasons were quite a few. All my Commanding Officers never wanted me to leave. I worked hard and I loved what I did. It was not enough. I did not want to stagnate. I knew and understood my worth. I wanted to do more, contribute more. I wanted to be in the intelligence Cadre or be given an opportunity to be an Instructor, or a Diver. Zilch! Despite recommendations from my respective Commanding Officers, it was never considered. Endorsements in the ACR and recommendations are filed away. What get exposed are just irrelevant opinions that make no sense.

I do not think any woman officer should have a complaint against post-commission employment possibilities. The Forces teach you management, behavioral sciences, security and liaison, communication, administration and discipline. I would rather choose to believe that all these are added advantages to what we are already qualified to function as by way of our education degrees. It is unfair to put the blame on the Forces and say it messes up your career. I agree here that it is much more difficult for the permanent service officers to leave the Forces. Getting a career in the civil environment is not a big deal. If we all look back and see what we achieved in the Forces, this is like chicken change. If you had it in you to join the Forces, be there, excel for whatever time you were there, you can be anywhere and be whoever you wish to be.

If you think, you are.

- Sandy

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