NATO Military Women Share Views
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
BRUSSELS, Belgium, June 17, 1998 Women in NATO's armed forces are united in a common quest for gender equality. They're working together to find ways to deal with issues affecting military women throughout the alliance.
About 100 senior women from 18 nations -- 14 NATO nations plus the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Sweden, gathered here in June to share information and discuss common issues. Norwegian navy Cmdr. Elisabeth Moss Westeng chaired the annual Committee on Women in the NATO Forces conference.
Formed by senior military women in 1961, the committee is an advisory board on critical issues affecting women. Westeng said the annual meeting strengthens relationships within NATO and increases awareness of women's issues.
"We want this to be an active organization," Westeng said on opening day of the four-day meeting. "Networking is very important. We need to systemize women's contacts to deal with such key issues as recruitment and retention, which affect women in all forces."
Women serve in the armed forces of 13 of NATO's 16 member nations. Luxembourg, which has no women in uniform, and Iceland, which has no armed forces, did not attend.
During the conference, senior military women from each represented nation reported on the status of military women in their country. Along with providing numerical data, the goal was to report new initiatives related to objectives previously set by the committee, said U.S. Air Force Major Sarah Garcia, head of NATO's new Office on Women in NATO Armed Forces.
"In some NATO-nation militaries," Garcia said, "women still play a minor role due to constitutional and cultural restraints, while in others, combatant units -- armor, artillery, infantry -- are open to women. Norway's navy, for example, now has its first woman submarine commander. Our U.S. Navy has just approved five women to command combatant ships."
Several nations gave special briefings: France on Partnership for Peace initiatives; Sweden on its mentoring program; Belgium on matters of equality; and the United States on dealing with sexual harassment. Army, navy, air force and medical corps representatives led single-service panel discussions.
Highlights of each nation's national status report included:
Belgium: About 3,120 women make up 7.18 percent of the Belgian armed forces. In February, for the first time, nine women began serving on a minehunter, thereby making up 19 percent of the vessel's crew.
Canada: About 6,700 women make up 10.8 percent of the regular force; another 5,800 or so make up 18.6 percent of the reserve. Women continue to move into senior leadership positions, and this year the Air Force appointed its first woman squadron commander. A woman also became a search and rescue technician, the first to serve in one of the toughest, most demanding occupations in the Canadian Forces.
Denmark: About 870 women make up 5 percent of Denmark's regular military personnel (excluding conscripts). Plans call for recruiting more women volunteers. Entry-level physical requirements, which have been a great barrier to women applicants, have been modified to allow more women to join.
France: About 10,600 women make up 7.5 percent of the force. French officials are considering opening all posts to women except those involving direct and prolonged contact with hostile forces; flying carrier-borne aircraft; and service aboard submarines, in marine or commando units, and in some gendarmerie posts.
Germany: About 3,800 women make up 24 percent of the German military's medical service. Another 37 women serve in military bands. These are the only two branches where women are allowed to serve -- German law prohibits them from rendering service involving the use of arms.
Greece: The 717 women in uniform make up about 3.75 percent of the Greek armed forces. So far women officer nurses are the only high-ranked women. Last March, three became brigadier generals. Women originally were only allowed to attend the Military School of Nursing Officers, but in 1990 were first admitted to other military schools and academies.
Italy: Women do not serve in Italy's armed forces, but the parliament is considering legislation to allow women to serve. Public opinion supports this bill, which is expected to pass later this year. Recruiting will begin in 1999.
The Netherlands: About 4,000 women make up about 7.2 percent of the Dutch armed forces. This summer, the first woman will complete the Air Force Advanced Staff Officer Course and, for the first time, the Navy will promote a woman to the rank of captain. In August, a woman officer will become the second to command a mine countermeasures vessel.
Norway: Officials aim to increase women's presence in the armed forces from the current 5 percent to 7.5 percent by the year 2005. Plans include encouraging recruitment by enhancing military women's quality of life.
Portugal: About 2,200 women make up about 5 percent of Portugal's armed forces. Women have served on Portuguese Navy ships since 1993, but they are prohibited from serving in some combatant specialties.
Spain: About 2,400 women make up 2.3 percent of Spain's armed forces. Women officers and NCOs can apply for any post, but women troops and sailors are prohibited from tactical and operational postings in legion units, special operations and paratroop units, submarines, marine landing forces, and small ships without appropriate accommodations.
Turkey: Women are only admitted in the Turkish armed forces as officers, not as NCOs or enlisted personnel. About 680 women officers now serve in the Turkish army, navy, air force and gendarmerie. Sixty women attended military academies last year; 274 are attending this year.
United Kingdom: About 2,890 women make up 7.8 percent of the Royal Navy, with 745 at sea aboard 50 ships. About 73 percent of all Navy posts are open to women. The British army's 7,432 women comprise 6.7 percent of the force; as of April 1, women can serve in 70 percent of the army's slots -- up from 47 percent. About 5,000 women make up 8.9 percent of the Royal Air Force. About 20 are pilots and 26 are navigators. Women remain excluded from the Royal Marine Commandos, the Infantry, Royal Armoured Corps and the Royal Air Force Regiment. Officials are reviewing opening further posts to women, including on submarines and as mine clearance divers.
United States: About 200,000 women make up 14 percent of the active duty force; 88.2 percent of the military's 1.1 million jobs are open to women. About 225,000 women serve in the reserve components and comprise 15.5 percent of their strength.
U.S. military women have achieved several milestones in recent years. Women now serve on the elite guard detail at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery. A woman fighter pilot was selected for test pilot school. Officials selected a woman Air Force officer as space shuttle commander. Army, Navy and Marine Corps women reached the three-star rank of lieutenant general.