Norway’s Labour Party has become the latest to approve a measure promoting mandatory gender-neutral military service for young Norwegian citizens. It was the second-most debated issue at Labour’s national meeting over the weekend, and means women would be subject to compulsory military duty just as their male counterparts have been for years.
Labour’s coalition government partners, the Socialist Left party (SV) and the Center Party, have already approved what’s called verneplikt (conscription) for women at their national party meetings earlier this year. The non-socialist Liberal Party (Venstre) also approved a military draft for women, and several top officials of the Conservative Party (Høyre) including Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide and Julie V Brodtkorp, are keen to do the same at their upcoming party meeting where the military draft issue for women is on the agenda.
Young women are already subject to what’s called sesjonsplikt in Norway, meaning they can be called up for evaluation for military service. Now they may be actually drafted into the armed forces as well, as political momentum moves toward draft eligibility for all.
Only the issue of whether to allow oil exploration and drilling off Lofoten sparked as much debate at Labour’s weekend meeting in Oslo, but a majority ended up voting in favour. Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen and Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, both from the Labour Party, took credit for the victory, arguing that draft eligibility for everyone sends “a strong signal” that women “have just as great a right and duty to contribute towards the defense of the country as men.”
“The defense forces have among the greatest power in Norway, and if that’s left only to men, it goes against the fundamental principle of equality in the country,” Strøm-Erichsen told newspaper Aftenposten. “We favour rights and duties being shared. That must also apply if we face a crisis.”
As the latest in a long string of female defense ministers in Norway from both ends of the political spectrum, Strøm-Erichsen contended that “the military needs women, and needs more women.” She said that eligibility for mere military evaluation hasn’t resulted in enough women joining the military, and both she and Eide argued successfully in favour of a “more modern military” that includes more women in active duty, a more highly educated military (noting that a majority of students at university in Norway are now women) and a need for more diversity within the defense establishment.
While several Labour Party chapters campaigned actively to approve the draft measure in the same year when Norway is marking the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, and officials in the US for example have ended a ban on women in combat, some leading Norwegian feminists opposed the draft measure. They argued that “militarizing” women doesn’t liberate them, and that women in the military also can be vulnerable to violence and abuse. Others argued in favour of a draft, but not necessarily into the armed forces. Rather, Kjersti Toppe of the Center Party has promoted compulsory community service for all men and women including, for example, spending a year working in a nursing home or in another welfare sector.
Some top Labour Party women also opposed the measure, including Anniken Huitfeldt who currently serves as Norway’s labour minister. She argued that the military doesn’t need more people eligible for the draft, noting that the majority of young men are already turned down and avoid service. The so-called “equality argument,” Huitfeldt claimed as late as February, paled in comparison to the military’s actual needs.
But now a draft for women looms, although its costs may mean that implementation of it is delayed. It’s unclear whether the matter to come up for a vote during the remainder of this parliamentary session, but it’s expected within the next. Some bullish Labour Party officials claimed the issue will come up in June, at least regarding the principle of a gender-neutral draft, and that it would take effect around 2015.
In other issues at Labour’s meeting over the weekend, party members voted to phase out the controversial fur farming industry (another issue that puts it at odds with its coalition partner, the Center Party), ban semi-automatic weapons, provide some form of dental health expense assistance and work towards allowing Norwegians as young as 16 to vote in all municipal elections. Labour also voted to promote construction of 3,000 more student housing units (much too few, argued student leaders have argued) and allow young, single asylum seekers to attend high school. Labour also wants the state to invest more money in maintaining Norway’s timber industry.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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