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Equal opportunity Report proposes army service for women and foreigners

Currently, there is no army service requirement for women in Switzerland, although serving is possible.

(Keystone)

Experts evaluating the challenges facing the Swiss conscription system after 2030 have suggested considering universal compulsory service. This could potentially include service in the army for women and for foreigners living in Switzerland.

The study, released by the government on Thursday, looked at potential changes which could be made to take advantage of the needs of Swiss society and the skills of its citizens – or long-term residents.

Including foreigners in the system could be a way to foster their integration, according to the report. And including women would be a step toward gender equality. The study authors proposed offering a broad range of options for service which could be performed over a period of 12 years. The type of service would be flexible.

According to current law, contained in article 59 of the Swiss constitution, Swiss men who are fit for military service are required to serve in the army. Conscientious objectors are allowed to perform civil service instead. Men who are not fit for service have to pay an exemption tax. And men who are ‘significantly impeded’ are exempt from the tax. There is no service requirement for women, although serving is possible.

Reaction to the report

The study also evaluated the current roles and needs of the army, civil service, civil protection, community service, and volunteer fire departments, and the interactions between the groups.

Parliamentarian Corina Eichenberger of the centre-right Radical Party, who is president of the House security policy committee, told Swiss public radio, SRF: “I think it would be good for the army if more women would serve.”

Maya Graf of the leftwing Green Party, on the other hand, criticised the fact that only three women were represented in the 30-member committee that produced the report.

“Before we discuss this theme, Switzerland absolutely has to do its homework on the issue of gender equality,” said Graf, who is co-president of Alliance F, an umbrella association of Swiss women’s organisations. This would include discussion of salary parity, combining work and family, and representation of women on executive boards.

The committee, formed in May 2014, comprised representatives of the federal administration, cantonal governments, associations and other organisations and was led by former Swiss parliamentarian Arthur Loepfe. The report will form the basis for further discussion.

On Friday, Defence Minister Guy Parmelin told the Schweizer Illustrierte magazine in an interview that “the army needed more women”. 

He said a first step would be to make the army information day ahead of recruitment also compulsory for women. But he added that the opportunities of military service had to be better communicated. 

Any change is still a long way off, however, as it would require a change to the Swiss Constitution and the government would have to propose a change to the militia army system.

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