Mixed signals to women in military

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The Norwegian defense forces may face a tough time recruiting the women they claim they need to attract, after a military complaints board rejected the reprimand of an Air Force officer who’d ordered a young woman soldier to bathe naked along with 3o male colleagues three years ago. Top political and military officials had insisted the officer’s order was unacceptable, fined and reprimanded him, but now he’s won on appeal.

Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen from the Labour Party, shown here at seminar for female officers last winter, claims the Norwegian military needs more women. She successfully promoted the measure to make women subject to a military draft as well as men. PHOTO: Forsvaret

The Norwegian military has long claimed it needs more women, like those shown here at a seminar for female officers with former Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen. Yet it still seems legally allowed for a male officer to order a female recruit to strip and bathe naked along with other male soldiers. PHOTO: Forsvaret

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Monday that the military won’t reveal the grounds for the complaints board’s decision vindicating the officer who ordered 20-year-old recruit Alice Aspelund to strip and bathe along with her male colleagues. She had pleaded to at least be allowed to retain her underwear, but her angry superior was adamant.

He ended up being publicly chastised by his own superiors and then-Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide, and ordered to pay a fine of of NOK 2,500. Aspelund told NRK that she has since received lots of support from both male and female military colleagues in and out of Norway, but said shortly after the incident in 2011 that she couldn’t recommend other women to join the military after what she’d been through.

Even though military brass claimed the incident never should have happened, the officer appealed his reprimand to the complaints board (Klagenemnda for disiplinærsaker) and has now had his reprimand rejected. Aspelund is surprised and so, according to a top military spokesman, is the defense ministry.

“It remains unacceptable for a female soldier to be ordered to bathe naked in front of her fellow soldiers,” defense spokesman Dag Aamoth of the Air Force told NRK. He wouldn’t reveal the legal reason for the officer’s victory, and claimed it was important to separate the legal and management issues in the case.

“On the one hand, the reprimand has been rejected, but at the same time it’s important to stress that this was still an unacceptable incident,” Aamoth told NRK. “We will respect the board’s decision, and follow up on our own personnel and management issues.” He said the military board’s decision can’t be appealed further.

It was just two weeks ago that the Norwegian Parliament voted that all Norwegian women born since 1997 must perform military service if called upon. The military has been actively trying to recruit more women and make the military attractive to women as a career, while at the same time struggling with centuries of deeply imbedded male military culture and infrastructure. Experts claim that even in Norway, known for its egalitarian policies, the military is woefully far behind in being able to accommodate and attract more female recruits.

The complaint board’s decision is expected to make it even more difficult. Defense Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide of the Conservative Party declined comment Monday morning.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund