Recently, I chanced upon a discussion on 93.8FM on the topic “Should women be made to serve compulsory National Service”? Faced with a declining birth rate and the prospect of having only 17 500 (from what I roughly recalled from the show) boys enlisting for N.S. in 2025, the idea to recruit women for National Service is necessary to beef up the army strength. An invited guest conducted a focus group with a team of women of varied ages, occupations and background concluded that women should be treated equally as men and be given the option to serve the Nation. I listened on as two female callers called in and raise their concerns about compulsory N.S. for females. When asked if they themselves would sign on, one mum said, only if she was fat. She went on to remark that it was a good, FREE weight loss program. My dear, surely, N.S. is more than that.
I am for the notion that women should be given the option to serve N.S. as raised by the focus group, more so when national security is at stake.However, what disturbs me is the reason raised by the speaker. I do not sign on to prove that I am on par with the men. On the contrary, I recognise that gender inequality is inevitable as there are roles best fulfilled by either a man or a woman. I sign on to protect what is dearest to me – my loved ones, my children, my home. It is my natural instinct as a mother, as a protector to defend her home and in this instance, her country is her home.
However I do hope that this option is employed only as a last resort. Is it possible to look into other areas of strengthening our defence force? Can we fight smarter? Although I do think that women should do N.S. especially when national security is threatened, I foresee some problems.
Firstly, it is a known fact that taking two years out of our Singaporean men meant that they join the workforce later than their counterparts from other countries. To make up for lost time, we compensate the men with monetary benefits. However this time loss when extended to women has more far reaching effects on women. By delaying monetary stability, a woman and her man are forced to postpone family planning till a later time. It is common knowledge that a woman is most fertile in her 20s. When this window of opportunity is lost to other factors, getting pregnant becomes more and more difficult with age. Beyond 35 years old, the risk of congenital birth effects increases. This leaves us females a mere 10 years, assuming we join the workforce like the men at 25, to find a partner (if we haven’t had one), save enough to own a house (which is already taking us a few years to build up a substantial amount in our CPF), to get married, to plan for a child and to plan for the next child in the time span of one decade. Isn’t this too much to accomplish? I fear for the national birth rate.
Secondly, overly vigorous exercise can create problems to a woman’s health, especially her menstrual cycles. Athletes commmonly have an irregular menstrual cycle, characterised by low rates of ovulation. For some, the vigorous regime and a lowered body weight, ceases the cycle and the woman can have no period for up to a year. Disrupting a woman’s menstrual cycle in her prime further exacerbated the first point that I raised – issues with family planning.
Of course, one can argue that there is more to a woman’s worth than simply a childbearing role. However we must recognise that this is in fact a role uniquely ours. As much as we would like to fight for gender equality in other aspects e.g. education status, there is NO equality for us to fulfill our childbearing duty. There is simply NO replacement!
Hence I feel that N.S. for women should remain an option and not compulsory. However, if it is a necessity, then please let’s do it. I do hope that my little contribution of three fine boys will ease this problem.