In the name of gender equality, Norwegian women have to be introduced in military service is mandatory, lodging them combined in the dorm rooms with their brother-in-arms. They have to sweat together and sleep together and they do.
The gender balance in the military is not yet completely equal, but in this summer, almost one-third of the Norwegian army recruitment to be women who were born in 1997.
At the Setermoen army base that is located just above the Arctic Circle, new recruits in an armored battalion are learning to handle assault rifles for use on combat missions. Only a few long ponytails stick out behind the recruits’ caps.
Lieutenant Colonel Pal Berglund, the battalion’s chief, says, “It gives me a bigger recruitment pool to choose from,” of the new gender-equal draft.
“Still, I’m looking for the same competency which I always have. And it’s obvious for me that this competency is also present within a large part of the female population of Norway.”
Norwegian women have even been able to volunteer for military service for almost 40 years now, helping to gradually develop feminism in the armed forces. The military gladly had already received its first female helicopter pilot, jet fighter pilot and submarine commander in the early 1990s.
But in 2013, when the prime minister was none other than current NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, a virtually consistent parliament passed a law applying military enrollment to both sexes.
Thus the Scandinavian country has become the first North Atlantic Treaty Organization member and European country to draft both men and women, joining a small group of countries around the world, in which Israel was one among them. The Scandinavian country had four women defense ministers of the last five.
Berglund says, “It is an advantage to have females in operations. For intelligence gathering, they have access to parts of the population that men don’t have, for example”.
The army requires not more than 10,000 new recruits every year, far less than the 60,000 who are amenable to be called up. Which means that the most motivated will only actually be asked to serve, in a country where military service is often seen as a personal accomplishment that is valued highly on the job market.
New conscript Marine Westum says, “It enables you to cut the umbilical cord. It’s good that girls and boys are getting same and equal opportunities“.
“I desire to become far more independent so that I can learn to work as a team member, make friends from other walks of life. Moreover to become more grown-up.”
The 18-year-old woman shares living quarters with another woman and four men. Camouflage gear and a military-issued flask are neatly organised in a metal cupboard, the indication of the presence of a woman is only a bra and a handbag.
Isn’t it tempting fate to keep young women and men together in unisex bunks?
“We experience that exposure to both the men and women increases understanding, tolerance, and acceptance towards each other,” insists Nina Hellum, one of the researchers at the Norwegian Research Defence Establishment.