Is The Govt Trying To Justify A Sexist Army Recruitment Process?

The composition of rank and file being male, and predominantly drawn from a rural background, with prevailing societal norms, the troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command,” the affidavit cited.

This statement was made by the Central government as a rejoinder to a plea by some women officers against the refusal of the Permanent Commission (PC) to women officials in the armed forces. This case was being heard by the Supreme Court bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi.

Representational image.

The Centre has told the Supreme Court that women officers are not suitable for command posts in the Army because the male officers are not willing to accept them. However, the court stated that if the government were to change its mindset then women officers could be “given command posts in the Army as there are many other services in addition to combat operations where women could be accommodated.

Also, the government stated that “motherhood, child care, psychological limitations” are also reasons enough to limit women’s participation.

So, shouldn’t male chauvinism, male ego, or gender bias in participation also be depreciated?

Isn’t this a sexist and highly regressive move? The job of the government should be to create equality for all genders, but this statement clearly shows the true face of their inherent sexism.

Women are excellent at multi-tasking. They can be wives, a loving mother, a proper home-maker. They are never asked to choose between being a mother or a wife, never asked to either cook food or clean house. They are supposed to handle everything efficiently.

So, why does this question arise? Why was it said that women have “domestic obligations” to fulfill? It was explained that women have “lower physical standards” than men. Moreover, women would be absent for a long period due to pregnancy, child care, education, husband’s transfers and career, and other such demands.

Today’s woman juggles both her professional life and personal life. I strongly feel that a woman can claim her role in her professional world and also keeps her household in check. Similarly, women in the lower economic strata, who work as labourers, maids, also have to work in their own houses. It has never been an issue for them. They love their economic independence as well as their household and can balance both the fields.

It is was stated that in a situation of grave physical, mental, and psychological stress will be induced if a female officer is taken in as a prisoner of war. Citing this reason, and not allowing women to join in, is a move to curb the freedom which women have the constitutional right to. As per my conscience, similar stress will be induced even if a male officer is taken in as a prisoner of war.

It should be kept in mind that just as not all men join defence, similarly, not all women opt for the defence force. I feel that only those with utter confidence and courage do it, irrespective of their sex.

NEW DELHI, INDIA – DECEMBER 8: Chief of Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat during Samman Diwas at Salwan Public School, Rajendra Nagar on December 8, 2018 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

An obnoxious reason, cited by our former army chief General Bipin Rawat, said that “the army was not yet ready for women in combat roles.” He also felt that women officers would be embarrassed and face discomfiture at the front, and charge the soldiers of “peeping” when changing clothes! Tell me, isn’t it hilarious?

If the male troops have a problem, then women should be barred, and if women are having problems then also women are barred! Shouldn’t they pass a statement saying that men should be ‘educated’ properly so as to accept women taking charge?

Indian women have had commanding positions, so why question their existence now? There have been many women who have fought well, both with their brains and their brawn. They were awarded and felicitated for it. They have achieved it, fighting all odds. Now, when the need of the hour is to give them enough space to grow, they are trying to prune them into a bonsai!

The odds are finally somewhat in the favour of the so-called ‘weaker sex’, so shouldn’t the government do something to eliminate this ‘weak’ tag and give them equal provisions to let their true self shine?

The whole world is talking about feminism, and this is our brilliant stance. Feminism does not seek that women be treated as superior or in any other exceptional way. It simply seeks that women be seen as equal to men.

But here, Indian women can be worshipped, but not given equality. When will everyone stop viewing women as liabilities, but as human beings who are equal? The navy and air force have discarded gender differences and have appointed female fighter pilots! Why cannot the army change their mindset? They should also do the same and go ahead with recruiting women commanders.

The army must change its recruitment rules for women. Women have shown intense courage when circumstances have demanded. They will surely render excellent service for our army also.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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