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|Updated: 26-Mar-2002||Committee on Women in NATO Forces|
For years, Czechoslovakian military regulations did not allow women in the military and it was not until WWII that the enlistment of women into military service was permitted. Czech women fought during WWII with distinction as medical personnel, phone operators, and anti-aircraft gun crews. They served in the Czechoslovakian unit in the Soviet Union, in the British Women Auxiliary Air Forces in the United Kingdom and the British Army in the Middle East.
Although women were incorporated into the Army peacetime structure during the post-Cold War period, their presence and importance was almost negligible. It was not until the early 1980s, due to manpower shortages and positive results concerning women's military experiences, that the Army really became conducive to female member ship. While servicewomen accounted for less than 3% of the Czechoslovakian Armed Forces in 1985, this number has since, more than tripled. In particular, the percentage of female officers grew from 8% in 1985 to 24% in 2000.
Professional soldiers comprise almost half of the Czechoslovakian Armed Forces. Although conscription is mandatory only for men, women can serve in the same capacity under conditions of conscript alert or if they volunteer. In peacetime, women can serve on a voluntary basis as regular soldiers.
Once a woman voluntarily joins the military as a soldier, she is governed under the same rules as a male soldier. There are no restrictions as to what rank female soldiers hold in the Czech Armed Forces and they are appointed to any position that is specified by speciality. Although a few women do serve in higher posts, the majorities work together with men at the unit level.
In 1999, new military legislation was passed by the Czech Parliament that governs the service of professional soldiers and contains provisions on servicewomen. No remarkable changes to existing laws have been introduced as they pertain to women's service. For example, the maternity policy is ruled by the same regulations as those in the civilian sector. When a pregnant soldier can no longer perform her duties, she will be reassigned other duties commensurate with her abilities without affecting her salary. A woman is also entitled to 28 weeks maternity leave after delivery, with additional leave up to three years upon request. During this maternity leave period, she receives a "sickness" benefit in lieu of her normal salary and gets a financial maternity benefit during additional maternity leave. There are also other comprehensive entitlements provided to a female soldier during pregnancy/maternity leave, and until her child reaches 15 years of age.
Positions held by women depend on their general level of education and any specialised qualifications necessary for a particular military speciality. Servicewomen most frequently serve in Engineering/Communications, Support Services, Logistics, and Combat units. They are excluded from airborne units, military bands, flight personnel and from serving as platoon and company commanders.
Czech servicewomen currently comprise 1% (1,991) of the total force. Approximately two-third of women serve in the NCO Corps (76%), while 24% of the women serve in the Officers Corps. The highest rank currently held by a woman is Lieutenant Colonel.
There are no service recruiting quotas for women. Because a large pool of women with the required skills already exists, the military selects only the best-qualified recruits. Ninety percent of women join the military straight out of college and become regular soldiers (obligation for 15 years). About 13% of the women joining the military hold university degrees.
A study conducted by the Czech MOD Research Department indicated women and men join the armed forces due to different motivational factors. Women's interests result from the lack of civilian jobs, offering comparable opportunities and compensation to that of military service. They are driven by better working conditions, self-actualisation, disciplined working relations, quality medical care, independence and recognition. On the other hand, men place more emphasis on technology, defence of the country, and professional training gained to use in a future civilian job. As a result, men tend to prefer a short-term service contract while women regard the military as a lifetime career.
The initial 12-month service or 5-month alternate service obligation (basic training/commitment) is conducted separately for women and men. One of these must be completed prior to receiving recognition as a regular soldier. Subsequent training (i.e. technical or speciality) is integrated at the military academies. Similar to other countries, physical training requirements are different for women and men.
Women remain excluded from serving on combat deployments, however, they have served in peacekeeping missions in support of IFOR, SFOR and KFOR as medical, signal corps, and administrative personnel. While Czech women have participated in these missions, the overall number, one hundred since 1992, remains relatively low.
Recent and Projected Developments
The new military legislation that has recently been introduced substantially modifies the concept of military service. The law changes military service from a lifetime career to a contract, limited to the needs of the military. The further service (2-5 years) will disappear and rank, speciality and education will determine the length of service.
In 1998, the Ministry of Defence established a Working Group for Solution of Enforcement of Equality between Men and Women. Members of the group include civilians and soldiers from the MOD, General Staff, and Troop Headquarters. The working group is devoted to the integration of women into military top management, the incorporation of equality into legal norms, and the monitoring of any forms of discrimination, primarily by means of the Army Open Line. In 1999, the group began to monitor the situation of equality between men and women within each service. In addition, the group co-operates with Czech women's movements and aims to promote women's military service to the mass media.
Women have become an integral part of the Czech Armed Forces and some of their positions proved to be indispensable, especially those in the Air Force. Although personnel reductions have not affected the recruitment of women and their representation among military professionals, they are not perceived on equal status as the men. As a general rule, servicewomen continue to occupy mainly lower posts in the military hierarchy.
National Co-ordination Office
Delegate to the Committee on Women in the NATO Forces