Indian army's women soldiers patrol Sadhna Pass in Kupwara district. (PTI File)
Indian army's women soldiers patrol Sadhna Pass in Kupwara district. (PTI File)

Indian military sees threefold increase in women personnel in 6 years

Excluding the medical wing in which women have been serving for decades, the army accounts for 6,807 women officers, the air force 1,607 and the navy 704 women officers
By HT Correspondent | Edited by Zara Khan
PUBLISHED ON FEB 09, 2021 09:36 AM IST

The headcount of women in the military has increased almost three-fold over the last six years, with more avenues being opened for them at a steady pace, latest government figures showed. There are 9,118 women currently serving the army, navy and air force, with the services giving them more opportunities to boost career progression, the government told Parliament on Monday.

The headcount of women officers in the armed forces hovered around 3,000 in 2014-15.

Since then, the government has taken a raft of measures to empower women, including allowing them to fly fighter planes, naval aircraft and giving them permanent commission in different branches.

Excluding the medical wing in which women have been serving for decades, the army accounts for 6,807 women officers, the air force 1,607 and the navy 704 women officers. In percentage terms, women still form a small part of the military—0.56% of the army, 1.08% of the air force and 6.5% of the navy.

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There has been an increase in the number of women personnel in the armed forces (excluding medical, dental and nursing cadres) in 2020 compared to the previous year, minister of state for defence Shripad Naik told Rajya Sabha. He added that the government has sanctioned 1,700 posts for women in Corps of Military Police (CMP) in the non-officer cadre. The CMP is the first cadre to induct women in the non-officer rank.

One of the turning points for women in the military came in 2015 when the IAF decided to induct them into the fighter stream. The navy has also opened more avenues for women in recent years—the first naval women were inducted as pilots of maritime reconnaissance aircraft in 2016.

Warships, tanks and combat positions in infantry are still no-go zones for women, who were allowed to join the armed forces outside the medical stream for the first time in 1992.

The armed forces began inducting women by granting them short-service commission for five to 10 years before the government came out with a new policy in 2008 to give them permanent commission in a few arms and services. The number of arms and services in which women are now being granted permanent commission has gone up.

Last November, almost 70% of women officers who were considered for permanent commission in the army by a special selection board were selected to serve a full term in the army.

Of the 615 women considered for permanent commission, 422 were found fit for the role.

The board was convened months after the government issued a formal order in July 2020 granting permanent commission to women following a Supreme Court verdict. The government’s July 23, 2020 order specified grant of permanent commission to women officers in 10 streams—Army Air Defence (AAD), Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME), Army Service Corps (ASC), Army Ordnance Corps (AOC), and Intelligence Corps in addition to the existing streams of Judge and Advocate General (JAG) and Army Educational Corps (AEC).

The Supreme Court in February 2020 ruled that women be considered for command roles and that all women officers were entitled to permanent commission.

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