By Gail Q
My friend Lisa snaps at me when I ask her if she thinks national service should be compulsory for women, momentarily drowning out the wailing of her 13-month-old son. “What? Women do NS? Me serve NS? Don’t I look like I’m already at war here?” she snarls, grappling ineffectually with her kid, who is now an enraged, food-spewing tyrant bent on destroying his mother’s blouse.
Many women out there share a similar opinion with Lisa when it comes to the issue of compulsory conscription for the fairer sex. In fact, a straw poll among my female friends proves that most agree with her: Only one in seven said she’d consider it.
Here’s the thing: Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I’d do it. And here’s another thing: I think all Singaporean women should have to do it. I’m a 100 per cent born-and-bred Singaporean girl, and I believe NS should be made compulsory for all female Singapore citizens and second-generation permanent residents who have reached the age of 18.
Women want justice, equality and an end to gender discrimination. We would scream murder if we were barred from voting alongside men come election time. Likewise, we should be displeased that we’re perceived to be somehow less able than men to contribute towards defending our nation.
As a former uniformed member of the Home Team, I went through nine months of Basic Officer Training (BOT). And nothing in my life before that prepared me for the experience.
To clarify, I’m no guy-bashing tomboy with muscles bigger than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s.
But the punishing physical and mental training I had to endure while in BOT allowed me to developed life skills I now cherish: resilience, humility, teamwork and the importance of not peeing in your pants when the s*** hits the fan.
If one of the aims of NS is to rub edges off spoilt, bratty boys and teach them valuable lessons on maturity and responsibility, why shouldn’t the spoilt, bratty girls of our nation benefit, too?
There are some women, like Lisa, who might consider childbirth sufficient exemption for women. With all due respect to motherhood, that’s bull. Procreation is an individual’s choice. If that’s painted as national duty, it implies that single and childless women are somehow shirking a patriotic responsibility.
And when it comes to suitable NS vocations for women, there shouldn’t be any restrictions either. Take, for example, the Israel Defense Forces, which allows women to serve in any role, including in elite combat units. Some may argue that, physically, women are built differently from men. But just as not all men end up as commandos, let a similar set of selection criteria apply to women – moderated to account for women’s lesser physical strength, as is currently done for female uniformed officers in their annual Individual Physical Proficiency Tests.
For most of us, doing NS may mean an alien world of road marches and camouflage paint. But if we truly believe we’re as good as every Singaporean son, it’s time to step up and shatter this glass ceiling.