October 21st, 2013

A new face for National Service?

By Jolene Tan, Communications Manager, AWARE. An edited version of this letter was originally published in TODAY Online on 17 October 2013.

Much ink has been spillled on whether women should be required to perform National Service (“Military NS not in sync with women’s physical and emotional abilities”; “Objective of NS is to bolster defence, not foster equality”).  Perhaps it is useful to look at the other side of the coin and ask: should men?

Some men find NS a positive experience.  However, for many people, regardless of gender, the military is not suited to their aptitudes, values and aspirations. Treating compulsory military service as a single gold standard of citizen belonging ignores the many other ways that people can contribute to the strength of our society, for instance through social services for older people or the poor, teaching in community settings, and civil defence.

It is worth noting that Singapore has recently faced two major crises – the SARS outbreak and the Sumatran forest fires – and in neither case was a military response necessarily helpful or relevant in ensuring our collective resilience.

Rather than pushing military service onto all, perhaps it is time to rethink the shape of National Service altogether.  A period of community service and contribution could be required of women and men alike, with military training forming merely one of several available options under the scheme.

Singapore-National-Service-Recruits-To-Receive-300x211Some women find the military fulfilling and have what it takes to make good soldiers (as many female SAF regulars demonstrate).  At the same time, many would not be a good fit – and the same is just as true of men.  Instead of pegging people to rigid roles based on narrow views of gender, we suggest giving everyone an opportunity to do something for society, in ways that better utilise their potential and serve a wider range of important needs.

AWARE’s views on National Service were also discussed in the October 16 episode of Talking Point on Channel NewsAsia. Click here to watch Moana Jagasia, Research & Advocacy Coordinator, AWARE, talk about women and NS.

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