An officer in the Norwegian army who ordered soldiers including two women to bathe naked in a cold moutain lake ended up avoiding any reprimand, and now the military won’t change its rules for hygiene and life in the field either. It all raises issues of gender equality, and what exceptions should be made, just as more women are set to enter military service.
State broadcaster NRK reported Tuesday that the military has concluded two rounds of examining the case of soldier Alice Aspelund, who resisted the order to bathe naked along with the men while on field exercises outside Bodø in 2011. She had made it clear the order exceeded her limits for personal privacy, but the officer refused to back down and Aspelund found the situation “very difficult.”
It immediately raised issues of how, or whether, exceptions to rules should be made to accommodate women in the armed forces. The officer was initially reprimanded and fined NOK 2,500 for not bending the rules that all soldiers must wash themselves while out in the field, but he appealed. In 2004, his reprimand was rescinded, which came as a disappointment to Aspelund.
Now the military has concluded that changing the rules would be “the wrong way to go, based on one single episode,” Brigadier Trond Kotte of the military’s personnel division told NRK. Kotte conceded that it means officers won’t be reprimanded in the future if they insist on treating all soldiers equally in the field, also when it comes to bathing outdoors.
Kotte insisted, though, that military brass “took this incident very seriously” and believes it will, in the end, “raise the consciousness” of gender issues. “The naked bathing case has made us more aware of the need for good attitudes and solutions,” he said.
Military attorney Lars Morten Bjørkhold agreed the case raised difficult issues about how to handle field hygiene, noting that it was practised in various ways: “There are many activities that military personnel must carry out, along with the degree to which they affect physical personal integrity.” No changes in favour of firmer guildelines or rules will thus be in place in July, when the first group of young Norwegian women will be called in for compulsory military service.