Should women be made to undergo National Service? Despite this question being raised quite some time ago, public sentiment is still rather divided and there has yet to been a change of policy regarding conscription in Singapore. However, my stand on this issue is unequivocal: No, they should not be. Instead, women for National Service should be made mandatory only for the right reasons.
One argument in the case for women in National Service is that it is unfair for only males to sacrifice two years of their lives undergoing National Service, and does Singapore not promise equality? Gender equality should not be the basis in which we make this decision. Biology dictates that the female sex is physically weaker than the male sex, and this is a scientific fact that nobody can deny. True gender equality would be recognizing differences between the sexes and accepting them, without discrimination of any one sex for those very differences. This is the distinction between equity and equality. In other words, being physically weaker is not a handicap but simply another factor we take into consideration when making decisions. Especially since the rigor and physical intensity of National Service is deemed necessary for effective combat training and has been set to the physical standards of males, conscription of women would either result in a less competent military force or just fail entirely because half of the recruits are physically incapable of meeting the training requirements. If there is fear of women being unable to protect themselves, then self-defense classes and basic trainings are an option. Therefore, women should not have to undergo National Service based on “righting” gender inequality.
Having established this, I am in no way saying that women are the weaker gender. While females do lack in physical strength, they are not incapable in other areas. This leads me nicely to my next argument on maximum utilization of our resources. Another argument in the case for women in National Service is that there might not be enough young men to defend the country, as Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen stated. While this is definitely a pressing concern, the real, underlying matter is how we can best utilize our limited manpower to defend Singapore. While civil defence is inclusive of military defence, military defence is only one part of the entire complex equation. Defending Singapore’s sovereignty is critical, but so it maintaining our social, economic and political stability. Conscription of women will be taking away a large part of the workforce during those two years, during which women will have finished their studies and have started contributing to Singapore’s economic growth. While some say that women can also contribute by taking up non-combat roles in military, their level of contribution in such positions is comparatively much lower, especially since there is a greater need for combat positions in the military. By entering the workforce and even starting families, which are the most fundamental unit of our society, women contribute to civil defense by helping maintain the stability of our country. If we truly lack the resources and manpower to adequately defend Singapore, then allocation of our manpower is essential. In essence, female citizens are better utilized in the defense of our country by working or starting families, than by participating in National Service. Therefore, women should not be made to undergo National Service, where their contribution is limited.
In conclusion, a balance must be struck between military defense and other forms of defense. If we truly wish to protect Singapore, we must take into consideration every aspect of civil defense and whether there is truly a need for women to take part in National Service.