Updated: 26-Mar-2002 Committee on Women in NATO Forces

Special Edition


The Netherlands


Since 1944, women have served in the Royal Netherlands Armed Forces when the Women's Corps was created in the United Kingdom. The Corps was comprised of several hundred Dutch women who fled the Netherlands during World War II. Prior to the 1980s, servicewomen were separated into three Women's Corps: the MARVA (Navy), MILVA (Army), and the LUVA (Air Force).

Integration of women began in January 1979 when they were assigned to various arms and branches of the three Services. Because there was no solid reasons for a separate female corps, by 1 January 1982, all the Women's Corps were disbanded.

In 1988, the Services implemented various measures as part of the Positive Plan of Action for the Integration of Women into the Armed Forces. These measures included enhancing female recruitment, selection, training, part-time work, maternity leave and child care.


As of 1993, the Dutch military changed from a conscript to an all-volunteer professional organisation. In wartime, citizens can be called up to serve as conscripts. Women have the same treatment as men and must meet necessary entry requirements. Both women and men can serve in two major categories: Contract for an indefinite period of time or Short Term Contract.

General Policies

The Ministry of Defence Equal Policy Memorandum outlines recruitment goals for 2010 for all the services and has set a target of 12% female personnel strength. Concepts such as part-time employment, policies on parental leave, child care (the fact that women can take six years unpaid leave) and family policy is designed to enhance recruitment.

The Dutch Armed Forces have a policy outlining a Complaints Procedure on all forms of undesirable behaviour, such as sexual harassment, bullying, teasing and discrimination. It details the purpose, the use of confidential counsellors and a complaints committee. Both counsellors and the committee are obliged to report to the MOD and their respective Commander-In-Chief on a yearly basis.


All posts, including all pilot specialities, are open to women. However, employment in the marines and the Submarine Service remains closed to women on the grounds of combat effectiveness and practical reasons. The employment of servicewomen is kept under constant review.

Representations of women in more technical specialities remain lower than that of men. As a result, the Navy has developed a special training course for personnel who can acquire the necessary technical knowledge within a given speciality. This will improve and enhance the utilisation of women in the Armed Forces, as it will provide them with additional opportunities.


Dutch servicewomen make up 8% (4,170) of the total force (52,142). The Navy employs the majority of the women with 9.2%, the Army at 7.2%, the Air Force with 8%, and 8.7% in the Marechaussee (Military Police).

Women serve in various positions within the Headquarters staff, combat and support units. Only very few women are represented in the higher ranks, this contributes to the retention problem.


The recruitment requirement, especially for personnel on fixed-term contracts, is expected to increase in the coming years. The population in the age category between 15 and 29 is expected to decrease further in the Netherlands over the next few years and then stabilise. This means that there will be less candidates to recruit from in the coming years. It also means that more attention will need to be paid to the recruitment of women and people from ethnic minorities. The Services are working hard to attain their target goals. It is estimated that an admission of 20% women is required to achieve its goals.

As in many other countries, the physical requirements are high in operational areas like combat and combat support units. The Dutch military has a program to provide solutions for physical fitness concerns. One such solution allows young people to combine their preparation for vocational training with an opportunity to see what army life has to offer. Evaluation reports thus far have been positive in terms of physical fitness and basic military knowledge.

The military is trying to change their image of an "all male society" through informational and recruitment campaigns. Qualified female personnel with operational experience are being assigned as recruiting officers and are viewed as role models for potential recruits. And in 2001, another new brochure was published specifically aimed at women. It includes a closer look at all regulations regarding work and care.

In addition, the selection procedure will have to be looked at with a critical eye. In view of the competition in the job market, candidates will not only want to know quickly whether they will be taken on or not, they will also want to know precisely which job they are applying for and where they will be posted after training. In other words, as viewed from the job market, the aim is made-to-measure work down to specific function levels.


All of the Services are trying to closely monitor the career development of their female personnel. In doing so, women are given opportunities for admission to career-development courses, if equally qualified as male personnel. Theoretically speaking, both genders have equal career development opportunities; however, an impression exists among servicewomen that their career prospects are limited because of the lack of women in senior positions.

Training is related to realistic functional requirements; therefore, women and men must meet the same physical fitness standards. Currently, several studies are being conducted to find a better solution to optimise training efforts in relation to functional requirements. One measure taken into account is the new ergonomic design of tasks and equipment to reduce physical requirements, without diminishing operational readiness. Additionally, women are given the opportunity to attend training courses paid for by the government in the period prior to them entering military service.


Dutch servicewomen have participated in various missions all over the world in support of PKO and other humanitarian operations. Women serve in different kinds of positions within headquarters staff, combat, logistic units, military police and pilot specialities. The operations last mostly six months. According to regulations, "The military personnel of the Armed Forces, both men and women, are serving under the obligation to be fit for duty abroad, and the admission is not on a voluntary basis. Women with one or more children under the age of five are not deployed abroad, unless operational reasons make it absolutely necessary."

Recent and Projected Developments

A new government was formed in 1998, with a woman serving as the State Secretary for Equal Opportunities, Employment and Care. She ordered all ministries to formulate a minimum of three targets in the framework of equal opportunities policy, and to have those policies implemented within four years. The Ministry of Defence selected four targets:

  1. Eight percent female service personnel by 2002. This target as been reached.
  2. More women in part-time functions. The number of women working part-time has risen, but it is still low.
  3. Completion of the VERGO (Women and Ergonomics) pilot projects. The VERGO pilot projects have been successfully completed. The projects have proven that procedures and equipment can often be adapted using simple aids in order to lighten the physical burden of the work considerably.
  4. Development of a structural and visible career policy for female military personnel from the rank of Captain/Navy lieutenant and upwards, with a view to taking these into account and thereby limiting the outflow of women from the armed forces. The promotion of women, however, remains limited.

Several programs have been implemented to help with the retention problem (both men and women). For example, the military is trying to create more part-time jobs in a manner that will not negatively impact the effectiveness and readiness of the Services; the military Defence organisation has opened its first in-house day-care centre at Twente air base. Preparations for similar forms of childcare are under way at the RNLNA and the RNLAF. Discussions are also ongoing concerning after-school care, 24-hour childcare, care for children over 12 years, and the high expense of childcare. The military is working hard to solve the issues in-house, but will investigate the possibility and feasibility of civilian care by local companies.

An increasingly important issue is helping personnel cope with diversity, in light of the increasing number of minority personnel employed within the Armed Forces. All Service-training courses now devote attention to lessons in ethics, managing diversity and dealing with undesirable behaviour. All military personnel, both during initial training and during follow-up and career training courses, attend these lessons. Officers and NCOs are given additional training on these topics.

The RNLAR is following the example set by the RNLNA some years ago by appointing its first female colonel. The RNLAR had appointed female colonels before, but only as curative medical officers.

And last, but not least, the new Collective Labour Agreement states that military personnel - men and women - are entitled to partially paid parental leave.


Over the years, the Royal Netherlands Military has taken steps to improve upon their process of fully integrating women. Changes in the Defence organisation, such as the abolition of the conscript soldier, necessitate the need for recruitment of qualified women to sustain its mission readiness. With the provisions set forth in equal opportunity and family care policies, and demographic developments, the number of women in the armed forces will increase over the years.

National Co-ordination Office

Ministry of Defence
Directorate of Personnel, Room C227
Kalvermarkt 32
2500 ES The Hague
The Netherlands
Tel: +31-70-318-7871
Fax: +31-70-318-7154

Delegate to the Committee on Women in the NATO Forces

Commander Edith Schrijvers-Daniëls, Navy
Same address and contact numbers as above
E-mail: eschrijversdaniels@mindef.nl

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