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|Updated: 26-Mar-2002||Committee on Women in NATO Forces|
Polish military women have a long tradition of military service dating back to WWI and especially in WWII. However, the women's service was never formally recognised by law or regulation. It was not until 1988 that basic regulations concerning women's military service were established. The Polish Armed Forces is currently in the process of modernising their military while at the same time, balancing the officer rank structure. The objective is aimed at increasing the junior officer ranks and the NCO Corps.
1999 has been a year of tremendous change in the system of recruiting women in the military. In addition to other policy changes, women are now able to attend military schools and the Service academies.
Professional service is voluntary. Compulsory basic military service applies only to men. According to the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, women can undergo basic military service but at present there are no adequate legal regulations that allow for such a possibility. Due to this, women in the Polish Armed Forces serve mainly in officer and warrant officer corps. Last year the first women were permitted in the non-commissioned officer corps, admitted under special conditions or after military training, consisting of specialities useful in the Army.
The National Defence Minister performs the major defence governmental tasks. During peacetime, the Minister manages the Armed Forces and the Chief of General Staff commands the forces. The constitution stipulates the requirements of the armed forces. Liability for compulsory national military service applies to all Polish citizens: men aged 18-50 (Warrant Officers and commissioned ranks to the age of 60), and women aged 18-40 who have skills and/or qualifications useful in the armed forces (Warrant Officers and commissioned ranks to age 50).
Military authorities are revamping their personnel policies concerning physical fitness evaluations, maternity regulations affecting women in the military schools and academies, and are changing regulations regarding recruitment of more female NCOs.
The Polish military has maternity and paternity leave policies which state women cannot be dismissed from service during maternity or parental leave. Additionally, they cannot be assigned duties that would be harmful to their health during their maternity status. The new 26 leave has been in the force since 2001.
An amendment to the Act on military service of professional soldiers, which concerns the equalisation of the retirement age of men and women, has yet to enter into Force. As it stands today, women soldiers have to retire at the age of 50; currently, the retirement age depends on the rank, regardless of the gender.
Women serving in the Polish Armed Forces still represent mostly medical professions and are employed mainly in health-care institutions. The remaining percentage is employed in logistics, administration, justice, Military Training Ground Centres, and military schools.
Women make up only 0.33% of the total number of the Forces (240,650). Currently, there are 277 female military personnel, with 143 of them serving in the Army land forces, 60 in the Medical Service, 33 in the Air Force, 25 in the Ministry of Defence, and 16 in the Navy. An additional number of servicewomen also serve in other MOD institutions.
Since 1999, women have been admitted to military schools of various levels on the same conditions as men. The difference lies in the criteria of evaluating the physical fitness. The principles are different in different schools (no uniform set of criteria in this field).
This year, enrolment of women to military schools will be significantly reduced due to the planned reduction in the Armed Forces. In 2000, 163 women were admitted to the military schools and academy, next in 2001 - 33. Between 2000 and 2001, 24 women were admitted for the military service with specialities useful in the military.
The increase in the number of women has not been notable but the situation of the reduction in the Armed Forces is generally not conductive to recruit women to the military service. The number of women in the health service is still increasing faster than in other specialities. Currently, there are no programmes to maintain higher levels of recruitment for women due to the deep restructuring changes in the Armed Forces; in 2001, only 33 women applied for the military schools because of the process.
In general, service requirements for women do not differ from those of men; the only differences are those concerning the evaluation of physical fitness during recruitment and during military service. So far, the physical education test is not obligatory for women in all types of Service; it is only obligatory for women in the Army. This rule is forecasted to apply to all types of service in the near future.
The yearly participation of women in peace missions is steady but does not exceed 20 women. The main obstacle in taking posts different than medical ones is the lack of suitably trained female personnel. The situation in this area may change when it becomes possible to recruit women for wider range of posts than only medical ones.
Recent and Projected Developments
The most spectacular events in the military service of women in 2000 was the admittance of 163 women to military schools and the observed significant increase of interest in an education in the military among young women.
The necessary supplement was introduced to the uniform sorts for women officer trainees. The Council still works on introducing new uniform sorts for women. Contacts with the Parliamentary Commission of National Defence, Military Family Association, and other organisations working for the equal rights of women were maintained. The Council for Women proposed an entry for the Act on the military service of professional soldiers concerning the maternity of candidates for professional soldiers in schools, allowing the woman to continue studying after giving birth, but the proposal did not meet with approval among the members of parliament. However, the Council's efforts in this field will continue. The Council also published a brochure about women service in the Polish Armed Forces, including information on rights, duties and other subjects of importance in respect to women's military service.
Although the process of integrating women into the Polish Armed Forces has been slow, due to regulations and cultural traditions, there has been a significant increase in the numbers being accepted. Since 1988, women have made great contributions to the military service in dedicated professions, especially as physicians.
Military officials state that women are interested in joining the military as contract soldiers and there will be more in the future. Additionally, Polish mass media have shown an increased interest, by women, in the subject of military service. Since 1998, the number of various publications pertaining to this topic has dramatically increased. The plan currently under development by the MOD, to evaluate the status of women in the military, will have a dramatic impact on the future recruitment and utilisation of female personnel within the Polish Armed Forces.
National Co-ordination Office
National Delegate to the Committee on Women in the NATO Forces