Welcome first female military academy graduates

By Nathazha Sipasulta and Fitri Bintang Timur

Just recently, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo inaugurated over 700 graduates of military and police academies, highlighting their strategic role in internal reform that will help the two forces balance or even precede the development of modern challenges.

Arguably, one of the challenges facing the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police (Polri) is to win recognition as equal opportunity employers (EOE), which therefore requires them to recruit and promote their staff by merit and refrain from discrimination based on race, religion and gender. It is indeed a daunting task as two years ago the two institutions came under global scrutiny for imposing virginity tests as a recruitment prerequisite.

Notwithstanding, this year Indonesia welcomes the first female graduates of its Military Academy, with 10 from the Navy, 12 from the Air Force and 16 from the Army. Altogether, they only account for less than 9 percent of all the graduates, but, still, this marks an achievement after the inception of women’s corps in the TNI in the 1960s.

The achievement was made possible when, in 2013, the Military Academy opened its doors to women. At that time, the chiefs of staff of the three armed forces supported the move.

Consequently, female graduates, like their male counterparts, will have a chance to occupy decision-making positions, such as regional military commander. Unfortunately, as Indonesian women military are still barred from combat roles, including in infantries, it remains impossible for them to reach the top military position of chief of staff. This restriction also puts a brake on their promotion opportunities.

Unlike the TNI, Polri has allowed women to enter its academy since 2003, having assigned female officers to the same units as male colleagues. Thanks to this equal access to education, women stand a chance at taking up the chief post. In 2008, Polri carved out a piece of history that eluded the TNI when it named to lead the Banten Police a female officer — the first woman to head a provincial police force.

Pertaining to gender equality in defense forces, it is fair to say that Indonesia has significantly improved in the last 15 years. As one of the world’s 20 most powerful militaries according to Business Insider Australia, Indonesia has proven its positive progression on women integration in many crucial positions in the military.

Since 2002, for example, Indonesian Navy leaders have been awarding high military ranks to several Naval Women’s Corps (Kowal) officers. Also as part of gender equality, the Navy leadership has since 2014 allowed Kowal members to get on board warships.

As a comparison, the Philippine Military started to accept women in their Military Academy (PMA) in 1993. This decision was connected to the enactment of Republic Act No. 7192 (Women in Development and Nation Building Act), which allows women to join the PMA.

Australia, another regional military partner of Indonesia, has also taken gender equality in its defense services to the next level. Slightly more progressive than Indonesia, it was not until 2011 that the Australian federal government lifted all gender restrictions on Australian Defense Force (ADF) combat roles. It was believed that this policy was made to enhance the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which focuses on advancing women, peace and security (WPS) in Australia and globally.

According to the 2015-2016 Women in the ADF Report, in order to boost the participation of women in the ADF, Australia set an annual female employment target of 1,138 in 2015-2016. However, only 65.1 percent of the target, or 741 women, was reached.

The United States has also opened all of its military positions to women since 2016. However, the decision has been contested by many Republican members of Congress. One of the opponents is Republican Senator John McCain, the committee’s chairman, who opined that allowing women to enter all military roles, including ground close combat, would have a consequential impact on US forces and their war-fighting competencies.

Similar to Australia, gender integration in the US military aims to promote WPS by deploying more female recruits as UN peacekeepers in global conflict-prone areas.

Although Indonesia’s progress in women integration is not as advanced as in other global militaries, it can safely be said that the first female graduates of the Military Academy is rather extraordinary.

This is because Indonesia is a Muslim-majority country and a country with a strong patriarchal sense. Another Muslim-majority country, Pakistan, for example, does not permit women to join its armed forces.

We have to admit that efforts to integrate women in the TNI are moving in the right direction. However, Indonesia should perhaps consider setting a higher target for women in the TNI, as well as Polri, not only in terms of the quantity of recruits, but also quality of their roles.

Citing the words of President Jokowi in the inauguration of military and police academy graduates last month, we ought to change. This could also pertain to conditions in global security, in which women and children are persecuted in conflict-prone areas.

Indonesian military and police women can contribute more by joining the peacekeeping missions, particularly because the United Nations has requested that Indonesia send more women to better handle specific problems relating to women and children in war-afflicted zones.

Nathazha Sipasulta is an International Studies student at the University of Canberra and Fitri Bintang Timur is a researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta.


Published in Jakarta Post, 5 August 2017

Image courtesy of CNN Indonesia

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