Military duty has long been compulsory for Norwegian men, but the same may soon be true for the country’s women now that the Norwegian Labour Party has approved a measure which would make military service mandatory for all young Norwegians regardless of gender.
The Labour Party approved the verneplikt (conscription) measure at a national meeting last weekend, following in the footsteps of its Center Party and Socialist Left (SV) party coalition government partners earlier in the year. The Liberal Party (Venstre) also supports a military draft for women, and the issue is on the agenda for an upcoming Conservative Party (Høyre) meeting.
Norwegian women can already be summoned for military service evaluation, a process known as sesjonsplikt, or join the military on a volunteer basis. Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen, Norway’s defence minister, says extending the draft to women sends a strong signal that women’s duty and right to contribute towards the nation’s defence is just as great as men’s.
During an Aftenposten interview, Strøm-Erichsen said, “The defence forces have among the greatest power in Norway, and if that’s left only to men, it goes against the fundamental principle of equality in the country.”
The defence minister also said the Norwegian military needs more women and sesjonsplikt eligibility has not resulted in enough volunteer participation by women. Both Strøm-Erichsen and Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide have expressed their support for a more modern, more diverse and highly educated military.
Not everyone, however, supports a military draft for Norwegian women. The topic placed second to the controversial Lofoten oil exploration and drilling project as the most debated issue at last weekend’s Labour Party national meeting.
Norwegian labour minister Anniken Huitfeldt opposes the measure, saying the military doesn’t require more draft eligible people and most young Norwegian men are rejected and avoid service. Center Party representative Kjersti Toppe has suggested mandatory community service, such as nursing home work, as an acceptable alternative to serving in the military for both men and women.
Norwegian politicians expect to vote on the issue at some point before the current parliamentary session ends, but the cost of extending the draft to women means it likely will not come into effect until 2015.