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|Updated: 26-Mar-2002||Committee on Women in NATO Forces|
Few military and social decision-making processes have given rise to such controversial discussions as did the complete opening of all career and career groups to women in the Armed Forces. Without a doubt, this marked the beginning of a process of fundamental change. At the same time, we should not forget that "women in uniform" are not new to the Bundeswehr. Since 1975, women have been employed in the Bundeswehr Medical Service. Although they were initially employed exclusively as medical officers, applicants could be recruited as candidates for the career group of medical officers beginning in 1989. This step was followed in 1991 by the opening of the career group of NCOs and junior ranks in the Bundeswehr Medical Service. Since 1992, the armed forces have also promoted top female athletes.
While men are subject to compulsory service, female soldiers are only serving on a voluntary basis. Like male soldiers, they are integrated in the chain of command. There are no differences in work and female soldier's train with their male counterparts. They are subject to the same standards of performance and discipline.
The ruling of the European Court of Justice on January 11, 2000 prompted the German government to make the necessary legal changes to the constitution, the Legal Status of Military Personnel Act and the Military Career Regulation in order to open up all career groups and careers to women. Article 12a of the constitution was changed so that it clearly allows women to volunteer for military service involving armed combat.
At the same time, the Legal Status of Military Personnel Act and the Military Career Regulation were modified. This laid the legal foundations for recruiting women for the career group of NCOs / junior ranks as of January 2, 2001 and for officers as of July 2, 2001. Parallel to these legislative measures, the Ministry made the necessary preparations to recruit and integrate women. To do so, it was necessary to prepare specific principles to ensure the equal treatment of women in every possible respect.
In order to optimise the admission of women into the Armed Forces, superior officers have received special seminars on this subject and prospective female soldiers have been given in-depth brochures on "Women in the Bundeswehr" and "Social Security and Female Military Personnel." These provide not only information on the opportunities and special features of military service, but also concrete advice, for example, on questions of social security. In addition, information has been available on the Internet under http://www.bundeswehr.de.
Within the German Armed Forces, all standards are equal for women and men. The recruiting and selecting of personnel for further education or higher positions are based only on the joint criteria aptitude, performance and ability. Female soldiers receive the same promotion, consideration and payment as their male counterparts. There are no quotas for employment in assignments for women. The number of women holding important leadership positions in the highest ranks (e.g. General Officer) is still small. In the next few years, this will change as more women fulfil the requirements for promotion.
Today, female soldiers constitute only 3,4% of the total personnel of the German armed forces (excluding draftees). Currently, there are more than 6300 women in the Bundeswehr. About 4848 women are employed by Medical and Military Music Services and about 1470 by Armed Forces.
Shortly after the ruling of the European Court of Justice was announced, the first applications were submitted to the recruiting centres.
As expected, a high percentage of applicants in the career group of NCOs / junior ranks seek positions in the headquarters and support services (43.6%). Other preferred areas are in the combat and combat support forces (17.3%) and the technical service (10.5%).
After comprehensive preparatory measures were completed, women entered service in the Armed Forces outside the Medical and Military Music Services on January 2, 2001 for the first time in the history of the Bundeswehr.
Since July 2, 2001, 196 female officer candidates for front-line service have started their career in the Bundeswehr. The areas of main interest are combat and combat support forces (21,9%), supply, technical logistic support, Military Police and command support (29,8%) and Air Force (19,3%).
Female soldiers entering the Bundeswehr participate in integrated basic training. They are trained the same as their male counterparts, however, different physical standards have been established due to the physiological differences between men and women. After basic military training and continuous physical training, female soldiers are capable of withstanding the physical and mental strains of military service like men. Nevertheless, there may be some problems in areas requiring high levels of physical stamina. This problem must be given appropriate consideration in the selection of personnel and in assignment planning.
Soldiers have to take part in an annual test of physical fitness until they are forty years old. This test consists of strength and endurance disciplines. Performance in each discipline is rated with points. A few years ago, the standards were adapted to the age of women.
During all operations conducted under the United Nations and NATO in Cambodia, Somalia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo and Australia/East-Timor, women in the Bundeswehr have done and continue to do an excellent job.
As of October 2001, approximately 144 female soldiers, from all career groups, are stationed in the Balkans.
Recent and Projected Developments
With the opening of all careers and career groups, new career prospects and opportunities are being offered to dedicated and interested women.
The further integration of women in the Armed Forces will be an interactive process and the principle of "learning by doing" will play a significant role. Further action is nevertheless required in the following areas:
Creation of a child-care system: Being a soldier inevitably requires men and women to be separated from their families for long periods of time. For this reason, the Armed Forces are studying child-care models, which will make it easier to care for children during service-related absences of one or both parents.
Points of contact for specific problems of female military personnel: The growing number of female soldiers will make it necessary for changes in this area. In addition to the spokespersons that safeguard the rights of soldiers in accordance with the Military Personnel Representation Act, it will be necessary to examine the extent to which a broader legal basis is required for the points of contact. This will be done against the background of the Equality Attainment Act (Gleichstellungsdurchsetzungsgesetz), which has yet to enter into force; this act is intended by the German Government to further promote equality but will not be applicable to the Armed Forces on account of their unique nature.
Improving Physical Fitness: Numerous assignments require a high level of physical fitness. In order to ensure that, in accordance with the principle of equal treatment, women are not placed at a disadvantage when applying for such assignments, they can prepare themselves by suitable physical fitness training. The Bundeswehr Sports School is currently preparing a training program for this purpose.
Analysis of the integration process by the Bundeswehr Institute of Social Sciences: The Bundeswehr Institute of Social Sciences will analyse the findings of a questionnaire to be completed after women have entered the armed forces. It will also examine various follow-up measures.
Women will make an ever-growing contribution to the accomplishment of the mission of the Armed Forces and will help shape the public image of the Bundeswehr. Initial reports from the units show that the reception of female soldiers has been extremely positive. Acceptance and integration have posed no problems. Media reporting, particularly in the press, has underlined this "success story."
After a successful start on January 2, 2001, it remains to be seen how a front-page story will become part of everyday military life. Women will undoubtedly continue to have a positive influence on the "working climate" in the former "male bastion" of the Bundeswehr. Mutual open-mindedness on the parts of both men and women will guarantee the success of this forward-looking concept.
National Combined Office
National Delegate to the Committee on Women in the NATO Forces