Federal Councilor Viola Amherd is the first woman to head the Ministry of the Armed Forces in the history of the Swiss Confederation. Coincidence or coincidence, she unveiled, Monday, March 8, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, the conclusions of the report of a working group aimed at increasing the proportion of female personnel in the army. With 0.9% of women in its ranks, far behind France which has 15%, the Swiss army is indeed the least feminized in Europe.
Entitled “Women in the army”, this report recommends a series of measures, including the creation of an army service for women, training for managers on the themes of discrimination, sexism and violence, as well as communication campaigns on reconciling military and family life. The Swiss Society of Officers (SSO) immediately welcomed the report and the measures it contains judging the inclusion of women “Important and urgent for the future of the army”.
An observation widely shared by Élodie Jauneau, historian and co-author of an encyclopedia on the feminization of European armies (1), judging “Unthinkable in 2021, that a professional field could not meet the requirements of parity, or at least feminization, however masculine it is tradition”.
Compulsory military service for men only
Because the Swiss seem to not yet know by which door to enter this ultramascular institution. The Swiss “citizen army”, which has nearly 140,000 “militiamen”, the equivalent of French reservists, for 3,600 career soldiers, is essentially based on the mechanism of military service. It is compulsory for all men of Swiss nationality – who owe four and a half months to the “recruit school” between the ages of 18 and 25 – but not for women. These can nevertheless be carried out on a voluntary basis.
Caroline Weibel, member of the association of military women “Frauen im taz”, literally “Women in khaki”, said to herself “Very happy with the publication of this report and the creation of a service dedicated to women”. Most of the requests made to the association indeed relate to administrative questions on the methods of integrating an army which has so far not sought particularly to recruit women. Herself a reserve lieutenant, Caroline Weibel confides that it took her a long time before realizing that she could “She also joined the army as a woman”. Yet his military service, carried out voluntarily, was “The most incredible experience” all his life.
And concerning military (or civilian) service, acclaimed by 73% of the Swiss, researcher and soldier agree that it, from the moment it is compulsory, “Should be universal”. Believing that if it is gender equality that is sought, “It must be in rights but also in duties”. A wish that would require a change in the Swiss constitution.
10% of women in 2030
A change that may prove necessary in the years to come, as the Swiss army sees a decline in male recruits, who choose to perform civilian rather than military service. Behind an apparent desire for gender equality, therefore, hides a much larger issue motivating the recruiting of women into the ranks of an army in need of personnel.
Thomas Süssli, head of the army, estimated in June 2020 during a press conference that “By the end of the decade, about a quarter of soldiers will be missing”. The same man who wants to increase the proportion of women in the army from the current 0.9% to 10% in 2030. A political and military will that Elodie Jauneau nevertheless still considers “Too slowed down by a collective imagination that is firmly established”.