Problematic use of gender equality discourse by governments when considering conscription for women

Women marching wearing military uniforms
Source: Pxfuel - Creative Commons Licence
Natalia García Cortés


When in some countries conscientious objection has been recognised and in others, conscientious objectors continue to be imprisoned, some governments are considering introducing compulsory military service for women covering it up with gender equality and anti-discrimination discourses. This has been the case in recent years for countries like México, Colombia and the United States as WRI have documented previously.

Now, in South Korea, some presidential candidates from both opposition parties stated that, in the case of being elected, they will introduce military service for women, arguing that gender equality will be achieved only when women have equal opportunities to participate in “domestic defence”. Although a proposal as such will need a debate and the overall approval of South Korean citizens, it is still concerning that this is on the agenda for some of the presidential candidates.

In the same way, in Switzerland, the Federal Department of Defence currently is evaluating four options for compulsory military service, which could include conscription for women. The Swiss Officers’ Association – SOG (an umbrella organisation for regional military officers’ associations in Switzerland that is independent of the government) using this same anti-discrimination discourse claims that “both genders should have the same rights and duties in the military”. 

At the same time in the United States, Congress has been debating to expand the current draft registration to women. This, after the recommendations made by the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service in its report on March of 2020. Now, the president and the Democratic Congress could incorporate into the Fiscal Year 2022 Annual National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) the order for women to register into the selective draft registration.

In some cases, these kinds of proposals have been made under the argument that the voluntary registration or enlistment for women is not attractive for them and that the armies are not meeting the recruitment quota every year. This happens especially in countries where conscientious objection is recognised, and young men opt for the alternative service option if it’s available for them.

Gender equality, anti-discrimination and equal opportunities claims are being misused by the governments to masks these law projects and proposals trying to make them unquestionable. Promoting compulsory military service as an opportunity for women to be part of civil life is unlikely to traduce itself in more freedom or less discrimination for them. If governments and politicians are interested in these two things, the removal of draft registration, the recognition of conscientious objection or legislation on civil or alternative service (where it exists) that follows the international standards should be included in their agenda, instead of promoting a compulsory military service that, if anything, it’s more oppressive than liberating for everyone.

Sources:, A call for Swiss women to do compulsory military service, August 4, 2021. The Korea Times, Some presidential candidates want compulsory military service for women, August 4, 2021. The Hill, Senate panel votes to make women register for draft, August 4, 2021. Reason, Women Are on the Verge of Being Forced Into Military Conscription Due to a Perverse Notion of 'Equality', August 4, 2021.



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