Swiss cantons plan to make an annual army information day – currently obligatory for young men – mandatory for women by 2020. Calls have been growing for greater involvement of women in the armed forces.
The decision, reported in the Neue Zürcher Zeitungexternal link (NZZ) on May 23, came out of the annual conference of cantonal military chiefs. Meeting in Bern, the group approved a request to develop a project to make the orientation day compulsory for all – not just for men.
“We want to attract more women to serve in the army, in the civil service, in civil protection and in the Red Cross. It will no longer only be boys who are obliged to come to this information day,” said Alexander Krethlow, secretary-general of the Inter-governmental Conference on Issues relating to Military, Civil Protection and Fire Services. “
The military orientation day, which swissinfo.ch attended in 2015, is an annual opportunity for young Swiss to find out more about what roles they can fulfil in the army, should they join. Currently, for military service, the day is open to everyone, but mandatory only for males, who risk a fine if they don’t show up.
Diversifying the forces
As it stands, both at information days and in the army proper, women are rare: last year, out of 7,600 new recruits, only 65 women signed up. In 2016, the army reported that 1,117 females were serving, less than 1% of the total forces.
Calls have been made to integrate women in the forces, as modern warfare and strategy changes, inclusivity is seen as something which could benefit overall performance, as well as contribute to more equality. Speaking to the NZZ in February this year, Commander Daniel Baumgartner said that “women think and act differently, which would be very beneficial for the army.”
Defence minister Guy Parmelin has also been vocal on this front. In July 2016 he first floated the idea of a compulsory information day, stating that “the army needs more women.” His predecessor Ueli Maurer had previously commented in Parliament that women would “motivate the troops” if more of them went into the army.
Subject to ratification
The current decision is not binding. Cantonal representatives will examine the personnel, legal, and financial feasibility of making the information day obligatory for all young women. A concrete report is being drafted by Parmelin and the Ticino councillor Norman Gobbi, and will be available in May 2018.
Any implementation would be subject to legal ratification and would be expected at the earliest in 2020.
History: Women in the Swiss army
Swiss women were allowed, encouraged and at times even required to serve in the Red Cross starting in 1903 and did so in large numbers during and between the two World Wars.
Later, women were able to take on a role in the military through the so-called “military women’s aid service”, which was founded during World War II and eventually separated from the Red Cross to become the primary military service option for women. A series of reforms to the women’s aid service took place in the 1980s, allowing for military education and parallel ranks for women.
Women became integrated into the army in 1995. Until 2004, certain combat roles were not open to women, but since then, women have been allowed to perform any role they qualify for, through the same physical tests as men with the same minimum requirements. Also, starting in 2004, women automatically received service weapons.
swissinfo.ch with agencies/dos