Let women choose to do NS, says female focus group

'They shouldn't be left out of critical rite of passage'

2-hour session at Ulu Pandan Community Club, which was attended by 54 women.
2-hour session at Ulu Pandan Community Club, which was attended by 54 women. ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

Allow women to do national service - and no, this is not a call from a group of disgruntled men.

Instead, the suggestion that women should be allowed to volunteer for NS came from the first all-female focus-group discussion on how to strengthen the commitment to national service.

The 54 women, of between 19 and 60 years old, taking part yesterday said NS is a critical rite of passage and females should not be left out.

Instead of the usual two years, they can serve shorter NS stints of between six months and a year, and be able to choose between combat and administrative, logistics, or nursing jobs.

The topic of women in national service attracted intense discussion during the 21/2-hour session at Ulu Pandan Community Club, which was attended by Dr Amy Khor, Minister of State for Health and Manpower, grassroots members, mothers, teachers, executives and nurses.

Sales manager Estelle Lek, who has a 13-year-old daughter, said she likes the discipline and sense of responsibility that NS can instil.

"It's not just a man's job. Any Singaporean, regardless of gender, should be able to do his or her part to keep the country safe and stable."

Business development manager Melissa Tan was lukewarm about having women volunteers. "We also have so much to worry about, including starting a family and having children. Is NS the only way to show we are doing our part for the country?"

But real estate agent Lucie Tan, 53, said: "If women have the chance to experience what NS is really like, they may like it and more may choose it as a career."

The Sunday Times reported this week that the SAF, which has 1,500 women, wants to add 500 to the number in the next five years.

Dr Khor, who sits on the Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS), said NS for women is a "useful idea" that must be considered carefully.

Women already have opportunities to volunteer in the army. For example, some can serve in the field as nurses. But she suggested that the SAF, for a start, can "open up" its volunteer scheme to allow the women to serve in more non-combat roles. "It will also give them a better understanding and appreciation of defence and NS."

The aim of yesterday's discussion, which was organised by the People's Association Women's Integration Network Council, was to gather feedback on how to increase support for national service from families, employers and new citizens.

They were also asked what they wanted NS, which some 40,000 Singaporean males serve every year, to be like in 10 years' time.

Other suggestions included matching a serviceman's skills and aspirations to his military vocation and allowing for more flexibility when operationally ready NSmen who have children are called up.

The views will be channelled to the CSNS, which is chaired by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen. The 20-member committee is made up of ministers, MPs, top military brass, NSmen and employers.

Last night's session was the last of 12 focus-group discussions on CSNS. The next round of talks will start at the end of next month.


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