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|Updated: 26-Mar-2002||Committee on Women in NATO Forces|
In 1975, changes in legislation made it possible for women to sign up for service in the Belgian Armed Forces. A 1976 law stipulated the conditions for admission of female officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs). Women began joining the service in 1977 and they were accepted as officer candidates to the Belgian Military Academy in 1978.
However, under that Act, not all posts were open to women. In 1978, the Belgian Government ratified the New York Treaty of 1953 concerning the political rights of women. Implementation of this law by the Armed Forces in 1981 eliminated all discrimination between women and men.
The 1984 Economic Recovery Act allowed young women to volunteer for military service, with the aim of encouraging recruitment to the regular Army, but this measure met with very little success. The military compulsory for men was suspended in 1995. Today, women are fully integrated and all functions are open to them.
Active service personnel are organised into three groups: career, complementary and short-term personnel. Each group includes three categories: officers, NCOs and volunteers. All ranks in their category are open to career personnel; some of them may even move on to the next category as a result of social promotion. However, their promotion prospects are limited as complementary personnel who may take tests enabling them to become career personnel. Short-term personnel sign an employment contract for duration of two years, which is renewable five times, for a period of one year. In the future, a more attractive statute will change the statute "short-term".
To serve as active duty officers, candidates must first complete training and stage periods, usually lasting four years (one year for short-term personnel). During that time, candidates receive academic and professional training in military academies and training centres and undergo training and evaluation periods in their units.
The Air Force includes a fourth group of auxiliary personnel, which is restricted to aircrews. These personnel initially serve for a limited period of time (9-12 years, set to become 12-15 years in the future) and can then, by passing examinations, join the career or complementary group.
In addition to what was previously stated in the introduction above, it should be noted that in 1997, the Belgian General Staff implemented a regulation aimed at preventing sexual harassment and personnel were trained to serve in "trustworthy persons" posts. A new policy is being studied in order to follow the modification of the civilian law.
As part of a force reduction program, the Belgian Armed Forces introduced a part-time work policy in October 1997. This includes a four-day workweek, the half-day workweek and early retirement. Of the service women, 15% choose to work part-time; the percentage is always the lowest among the officers.
Women are allowed 15 weeks of maternity leave. This leave opportunity counts as active service. Men and Women are entitled to three months of unpaid parental leave before the child's tenth birthday.
Promotions and pay are the same for women and men. Promotion rules are based on seniority, personal qualities and professional qualifications. More and more women are being promoted to higher ranks. In 1999, for the first time, a woman obtained a Staff College Certificate. Among NCOs, the first women attended courses to reach the rank of Chief Warrant Officer and will soon be promoted. As stated above, all functions, including combat positions, are open to women. In February 1998, for the first time, nine women were operational aboard a mine-hunter vessel, accounting for 19% of the vessel's crew. Belgium has seven female pilots: one F-16 fighter pilot, one in training on the A-jet, three in training on the Marchetti aircraft, and two helicopter pilots in the Army.
As of January 2001, women constitute 7.7% (3,190) of the Belgian Armed Forces, which represents a slight increase since 1995 (6.6%). The Army employs the majority of the women with 1,667 (6.3%), followed by the Air Force at 887 (8.4%). The Medical Service employs 535 (19.3%) and the Navy has 283 (11.4%) female personnel.
The current trend is still toward a reduction in the number of active service personnel and recruitment is consequently limited. 1767 men and women were nevertheless enrolled in 2000 and we can see that the proportion of women in the category of officers (13.4%) has been developing positively in relation to the personnel employed. There has not been any quota applied neither to overall recruitment, nor to the number of service women.
Recruitment requirements and employment opportunities are the same for women and men. The entrance age ranges from 16 years old to a maximum of 33 years old, depending on the category. Minimum educational standards are required for each type of category. There is no gender discrimination with regard to recruitment; identical criteria apply to women and men, including physical fitness and aptitude selection tests. Women make up 17% of the students of the Royal Military Academy. The target is to recruit more women.
Reserve Personnel: Maintaining the mobilisation potential must be ensured in peacetime. All trained personnel must therefore be capable of fulfilling their wartime function. In the early years, female personnel did not have any military obligation in the event of mobilisation. A new law promulgated in March 1987 authorised female officers and NCOs to serve as reservists on a voluntary basis. This commitment entails fulfilling the obligations linked with this statute. This means that female officers and NCOs may now be mobilised in the same manner as their male counterparts.
Career personnel are trained in military academies with the exception of certain specialities. Women were admitted to the Royal Military Academy in 1978, and since 1981, the same physical and aptitude selection criteria have been used for women and men. The training program for female personnel is the same as men and takes place in the same schools and training centres. During their career, female military personnel may attend specialisation courses and take examinations required for promotion to higher ranks. Since September 1989, young women have been able to attend the Joint Preparatory School at the age of 17 in order to prepare for the entrance examinations to Officer Academies. Each year, a meeting takes place for women from different ranks and units to exchange information and to bring forward motions to improve women's integration into the Armed Forces.
Belgian women continue to participate widely in humanitarian operations. They have participated in various operations in the former Yugoslavia, in Italy, and France (assistance in the forests destroyed by the storm). The operations generally last between one and six months, but mostly for three to four months.
In 2000, there were 178 women who participated in missions. The distribution per category was as follows: 91 volunteers, 56 NCOs, 25 officers and six civilians. At least 40% of these women were mothers.
In the Navy, 30 women are part of the sea-going personnel and
serve regularly aboard ships.
Recent and Projected Developments
The year 2000 has been marked by several events related to
the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the presence of servicewomen
in the Belgian Armed Forces. This anniversary has entailed several
Secondly, on November 13, 2000, the Minister of Defence organised a General Meeting of the civilian and military female personnel of the department, the purpose of which was to give them the opportunity to voice their opinions. At the end of the year, a discussion forum brought female personnel together with high-ranking military authorities, as well as with civilian personalities who are authorities on the issue of equal opportunities, in order to discuss this topic further.
Finally, in March 2001, a second General Meeting was organised to announce the first concrete measures that would be taken as a result of the conclusions reached during the first General meeting.
Also notable is the creation of reception structures for children; three "day nurseries" are currently open for the children of service personnel. Within the framework of a personnel management policy, the authorities want as much as possible, to take into account the situation of couples where both partners are military (a situation that concerns 70% of servicewomen).
The percentage of women in the Belgian Armed Forces continues to increase each year. The Belgian Armed Forces, the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Employment and Equal Opportunities remain supportive of the full integration of women in the military in terms of employment, promotion and career progression.
National Co-ordination Office
National Delegate to the Committee on Women in the NATO Forces