Gender oppression is one of the most common types of oppression at military academies and in the military. Women officers, as well as men who are not perceived to be “masculine” enough, run into difficulties or are even directly excluded by the application of a large set of strange norms and standards when they try to make headway in the military system. Not only that, these groups frequently become targets of attacks, sexual assault, sexual harassment and hostile remarks, and more, when they serve in the military.
Women’s organizations have for many years been critical of military academies and the national military for the strict quotas they apply when enrolling women students, soldiers and officers. These quotas place heavy restrictions on women’s rights to an education and a job in the military.
If Taiwan is to be able to rely on a mainly volunteer military in the future, it will become even more important that a career in the military is seen as a right. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the Ministry of National Defense have also promised in recent years that they will gradually remove the quotas on women soldiers and officers.
However, looking through the information brochure about the acceptance tests for volunteer soldiers this year, one of the items in the health exam table states that “anyone with both ovaries missing or who has had them removed; anyone displaying secondary sex characteristics or who has insufficient sex hormones; any pregnant woman for whom postpartum is less than six months away; anyone for whom training will be affected as a result of having had the uterus removed; and anyone who has not been cured of pelvic inflammation, metritis, salpingitis, oophoritis or abscesses” is unqualified and need not apply.
These are new rules added this year. Not only is this an example of overt gender discrimination, there is also a lack of detailed medical criteria. In other words, the ministry offers no explanation of the reasons for determining that anyone with both ovaries missing or who have had them removed, or anyone with secondary sexual characteristics or insufficient sex hormones, or anyone with a genital disease that has not yet been treated would be unfit to become a member of the national military.
It is only natural, of course, that the military, in order to be able to protect the nation and its people, will impose certain physical requirements on its soldiers. However, given the diversified division of labor in the military, the ministry could set different reasonable standards for physical ability based on the special requirements for different positions and specialties.
If it did that, the ministry could cancel the quota for women and select their personnel based on ability, rather than using fuzzy and discriminatory language to infringe on the public’s rights to education and work.
These norms and measures, which all constitute serious infringements of gender and human rights, and which sometimes result in tragic losses of life, are direct pointers that military academies and the military — places of education and work that link into the national framework — are in urgent need of thorough and far-reaching cultural and systemic reform, if they are to live up to the demands and be worthy of the honor of protecting the people of a democratic nation.
Chyn Yu-rung is director of policy at the Awakening Foundation.
Translated by Perry Svensson