There is currently no need for Singapore to enlist women for national service, said Defence minister Dr Ng Eng Hen, who argued in Parliament on Monday (9 May) that the societal cost for doing so even for non-military roles would far outweigh any benefits.
Ng added that compulsory national service is justified only if it serves a critical need of national security defence.
“It’s very far off from the proposals to enlist women to serve in roles such as caregivers and healthcare workers, or to send a powerful signal of gender equality,” he said.
“These are inadequate justifications or reasons to mandate that someone must suspend individual liberties as a civilian, give up two years of his or her life, and if they do not, they go to jail, as our courts have sentenced NS defaulters.”
Enlistment would delay women’s entry into workforce
The minister was responding to a Parliamentary question from Carrie Tan (Member of Parliament for Nee Soon GRC), who asked about the enlistment of women, and its considerations beyond having an adequate NS population to meet defence needs.
Tan had also suggested during last month’s Parliament debate on the White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development, that Singapore should expand the scope of NS to include care vocations, enlisting both young men and women to these roles.
However, Ng said that enlisting women into NS would delay their entry into the workforce, and this would accentuate a decline in the local manpower pool and a reduction of household incomes.
“Is that cost justified to send a signal or to reverse stereotypes? From the government’s perspective, no. I think most Singaporeans would say ‘no’ too, from a security perspective,” he said
SAF remains effective despite smaller number of soldiers
Ng acknowledged that birth rates have been fallen, leading to a smaller defence force in Singapore. However, he said that the use of technology and optimisation of resources has produced a modern Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) which is more lethal and effective despite having a smaller number of soldiers.
“If Singapore is ever threatened with an existential threat by an aggressor, and there is a sudden and grave need to boost our military, I am certain that the (Ministry of Defence) and the SAF will call on the government of that day to enlist not only women, but even teenagers and older men into military service,” he said.
Ng said there are currently over 1,600 uniformed servicewomen in the SAF, making up about 8 per cent of its regulars. Women make up 5 per cent of SAF regulars holding senior ranks of lieutenant-colonel, military expert 6, or master warrant officer and above.
Additionally, more than 500 women have also been trained and deployed in different roles as volunteers in the SAF Volunteer Corps since 2015.