Earlier this year, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said that the “societal cost” of enlisting women into NS now will “far outweigh” the benefits. This sparked a huge debate among Singaporeans, with many expressing that women should be enlisted for gender equality, particularly in roles like nurses or teachers.
With local movies like Ah Girls Go Army on the rise, the topic of compulsory NS for women is now as prominent as ever. Will all females in Singapore really be okay with serving the nation? We spoke to 8 girls to find out their personal thoughts on the topic and their reasons.
Some names have been altered to protect the identities of our interviewees.
“I would embrace it if females in Singapore had to do compulsory NS. For me, it’s not so much about gender equality. There was a period in my life where I was seriously considering joining the Army, so I wouldn’t mind it at all. In fact, I would be quite excited to experience NS life.
It depends on the intentions of making NS compulsory for females. If it is due to manpower shortage instead of just wanting to make women “suffer” the same as men, I wouldn’t hesitate to support.
One of the challenges I foresee that women in NS would face is having people respect women the same as men. Some recruits may think that women get promoted more easily, or that women do not have the same physical capabilities as them.
I think it is important to make people more open minded about women serving the country. Given that people are now being educated about NS in-depth, I am sure more women would be willing to serve the nation and consider a career in the Army in the future.”
— Erica, 25
“In today’s society, everyone should be free to do whatever they like and there isn’t a need to confine anyone to gender roles. As someone who spends a lot of time outdoors, I am okay with compulsory NS for females. Singapore belongs to everyone, and we all have a part to play in defending the country.
However, I think Singapore isn’t ready to conscript females, given that females still hold a heavy responsibility in the nuclear family — from child bearing to taking care of the family. The current curriculum of Army training is also not exactly tailored to females and SAF isn’t ready to accommodate a big group of females enlisting.
I volunteered to join because it’s been something I want to do since I was young. It’s an honest yet meaningful career. Girls in the Army are more encouraging than anything, and it’s helpful to have people of the same purpose and goals help each other through tough times. I think most of the time, girls are more motivated than guys because we voluntarily chose to do this.
But women in the Army are also often seen as the weaker gender, or that we only serve to find a boyfriend. Some physical aspects of the training may be tough for females too. But as more women join the force, it creates an impression that it is indeed possible for women to thrive in male-dominated organisations.”
— Shermaine, 24
“I don’t have any negative opinions towards enlisting and I wouldn’t mind doing it at all. I have considered joining the SAFVC before, simply because I felt that I wanted to understand more about NS and give back to the nation in my own small way.
Personally, I don’t think there is a need for compulsory NS as of now. I do agree that the societal costs outweigh the benefits, but who’s to say that things won’t change in the future? A time may come where there will be a need to enlist more people.
I highly respect women in NS. I think it takes a lot of courage to take such a step in their lives and I can only imagine the hoard of questions they faced from the people around them when deciding to do so. Apart from being seen as weaker or being judged for their reasons of enlisting, I fear that women may be looked down upon by their male peers while in service.
Unfortunately, I have a feeling women’s opinions towards NS won’t change, even in the future. Since NS has always been something that only men have had to go through, we have always viewed that as the norm.”
— Angie, 21
“I would be pretty excited if women had to serve NS, especially since it was actually something I considered doing before. I think it is a great opportunity for us to do something for the country as well, if we are not already doing it in our personal lives or careers.
I feel that using the reason of “gender equality” just to justify why women should serve compulsory NS is a bit facetious. There are still so many aspects of society where gender equality is not practised, but it conveniently pops up where NS is concerned.
However, that being said, it does not mean I am against the idea of women being enlisted. It is the justification of “gender equality” that does not really sit right with me.
Women who volunteer are amazing and it takes a lot of courage to do so. The SAF is a male-dominated industry and there are a lot of stereotypes that accompany such a culture. Even when women step up to take on a high-ranking role, there are men who still say that it is not the same because we have it easier.
I think there will be more women who are open to serving the nation in the future. Hopefully, men won’t be so quick to dismiss the capabilities of women, and the idea of women joining the force is not as rare.”
— Khalsie, 23
“I would resent compulsory NS because I dislike doing strenuous activities. Also, it would mean having to spend 2 years doing something I am not interested in.
I feel like rather than for gender equality, it would be better to consider if it is actually beneficial for women to enlist in NS and how it will affect Singapore society. Roles like nurses and teachers in NS can be taken up by men too, so if that is the case, I don’t see why it is necessary for women to enlist.
There’s no denying that women are born with weaker physical strength compared to men, so I feel that it might be too strenuous on them as well.
Since young, we were taught in school about the multitude of jobs available and there are also movements that support and empower women. There are other jobs where you can serve the nation so you wouldn’t have to join the ranks.
I respect women who voluntarily enlist as they are willing to serve the nation and even potentially sacrifice their lives. I think in the future, compulsory NS for women depends on how it will benefit them, unlike other jobs. But it is not the most likely shift in job direction we would see.”
— Jasmine, 28
“I will dread NS if it were made compulsory for women. For the past 17 years, my mindset has always been that only guys need to enlist in the army since they are biologically stronger. Compulsory NS for females has to depend on interests and not gender to assign jobs that are generally female-dominated.
Women also have their monthly periods. With period cramps affecting a portion of females, it will be hard to get women to train as hard as males for the army.
It is tough to serve NS and women who volunteer probably have an interest in serving the nation and being at the frontline of defence. With movies like Ah Girls Go Army, the public would be more receptive to women enlisting into NS and more women might be encouraged to join.
As there is a decreasing birth rate, more females might have to step up to serve NS. In the future, females may believe in gender equality in the Army, so it’s possible for more of them to sign up for NS to prove they are just as capable as men.”
— Vanessa, 17
“Enlisting women is one step closer to having gender equality. But I would experience mixed emotions including resentment upon hearing the news, though I will ultimately embrace it.
If I were to enlist in NS but be handed stereotypical female roles just because I am female, I will be dissatisfied. I want to be given roles based on my skill set and not my gender.
I think women should serve if they are required to. The recent events such as the war in Ukraine and comments from former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir, shows that one really cannot take peace for granted. All of us need to play our part in contributing to Singapore’s defences no matter how small our role is.
I personally have not volunteered. However, if the need arises, I will choose to step up and volunteer in roles where my expertise lies.
I don’t think gender is the main issue for National Service — it is one’s sense of duty for the nation that we need to cultivate. I believe that with the rise of social media, being less ignorant to global news can help more people realise the importance of serving the nation.”
— Megan, 23
“I would dread doing NS just like everyone else. It’s okay to implement compulsory NS during wartime, but not during peacetime. From an economic standpoint, there simply isn’t a need yet. It would be more efficient for women to enter the workforce and university first while men are serving their 2 years.
However, the situation would differ during times of war, where the immediate importance would be to channel resources into the defence sector. Apart from that, compulsory NS for both women and men would lead to some other concerns. For example, young couples with children would have no one to care for their child.
Personally, I have other priorities in life and I’m not willing to sacrifice my career to serve the army. Apart from the benefits like job stability and government scholarships, I believe women willingly join because they are passionate about the defence sector and want to contribute to it.
When a woman enlists, she is made to feel inferior. People invalidate her and say she has an easier time during training or that she’s doing it just for the scholarship. But when a woman says she doesn’t want to enlist, she is then faced with men telling her to do more for our country — again made to feel inferior.”
— Hannah, 21
These Singaporean girls’ mixed opinions have shown us that the topic of females serving compulsory NS still remains uncertain today. While it is not a major concern for now, perhaps in the future, society may shift their views and become more receptive to females serving the nation alongside males.
Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Cover image courtesy of interviewees.
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