In the article “Let Women Contribute By Doing NS In The Community”, the author, Cho (2019), calls for a review on National Service to involve women in national service by doing community service for one year. He sees it as a promotion of women’s rights and equal contribution to national responsibility.

Cho first points out that military service is potentially dangerous and physically demanding. He adds that men sacrifice two years to protect Singapore while women proceed with their career and educational plans. Then, Cho acknowledges the physiological differences between men and women, adding that it is not ideal for women to serve compulsory military service. He instead suggests that women serve national service for one year in the areas of environmental conservation, community building, healthcare, and eldercare, claiming that it is a significant length of time without hindering the educational and career advancements of women. Next, Cho claims that the local workforce relies extensively on foreign workers to curb labour shortages in the healthcare and eldercare industries in view of Singapore’s ageing population. He suggests the creation of jobs that can be performed with little training in order to get youths to take care of our elderly folk and maintain a low eldercare expenditure. Lastly, he states that community services keep society functioning and can narrow the wage gap between genders when women serve national service while making it a more equitable experience.

I can agree with Cho on the physiological differences between men and women. Indubitably so, military service for women is not as ideal. Women cannot exert themselves harder than men at physical tasks in a highly skewed and gendered institution (Yanovich et al., 2008; Persson & Sundevall, 2019). However, Cho seems to imply that gender equality and equity can be promoted by simply having women perform community service over a year in cherry-picked sectors. I disagree with his idealistic views and find the suggestions untenable and fallacious.

First, Cho claims that men sacrifice two years of their lives in the military service that is not only physically demanding, but fraught with danger, while women carry on with their careers and education unhindered. Indeed, war is a dangerous affair. Even in peacetime, unfortunate deaths can occur (Tan, 2019; Wong, 2019). Still, to claim that men “sacrifice” their time is to make a sweeping statement without considering that some make productive use of their two years while others see it as duty. Singapore’s sovereignty necessitates conscription and maintenance of its armed forces in keeping potential threats at bay especially considering its small land and population size (Khanna, 2014). National service is a national duty and Cho could do better to recognise its crucial purpose rather than term it a “sacrifice”.

Next, Cho acknowledges the physiological differences between men and women. He states that military service for women is not as ideal. Instead, he suggests that women serve national service for one year in four different sectors to avoid hindering their professional advancements. A study found that women have a “lower overall work capacity”, tire earlier and are at higher risk of injuries as they push themselves harder to “achieve the same performance levels as men” (Epstein, Yanovich, Moran, & Heled, 2013). However, in suggesting that women serve for only one year while safeguarding their career advancements, Cho seems to allow for double standards instead. Should men not then serve one year as well since he recognised the dangerous nature of national service?

Then, Cho claims that Singapore relies extensively on foreign workers to meet labour needs in the healthcare and eldercare industries as the population ages. He suggests jobs for youths that can be done with little training in those sectors to keep expenditure low. Singapore and other countries are facing an ageing population with burgeoning healthcare demands. However, workers with professional and specialised skills such as doctors and nurses are needed more so than jobs that require little training (“30,000 more healthcare workers”, 2016; “Bridging the medical talent gap”, 2017). Additionally, a highly talented workforce, not jobs for youths, is increasingly required across all industries (Ranasinghe, 2018). Having women in national service performing jobs that can be done with minimal training reeks of gendered tokenism when skill requirements trend upwards, not down.

Finally, Cho claims that community services keep society functioning. He claims that involving women in national service makes it a more equitable experience while building a case to narrow wage gaps between genders. Indeed, community services contribute to a functioning society. Yet, it is incredibly fallacious to claim that wage gaps exist because men serve two years of national service. This discredits a study by the Ministry of Manpower which found that wage gaps could exist due to “firm type, position within the industry, work experience, caregiving responsibilities and discrimination” (Phua, 2020). There are more factors that could cause wage differences and identifying them is no mean feat. Simply claiming wage differences exist due to men serving an arbitrary two years of service reeks of a flippant attitude towards gender imbalances.

I commend Cho on building a case in favour of women performing community service in four industries as a way to close the wage and gender gap while promoting equity too. He justifies his stance by pointing out factual physiological differences and recognises that military service is not ideal for women. Yet, he fails to consider the big picture while raising idealistic suggestions and shoddy arguments with weak grounding. In doing so, he misses the opportunity to make a holistic case for involving women in national service. Cho would do better to present views that are steeped in rigorous thought than fleeting statements. He could fare better by pulling in sociological perspectives that reveal gender imbalances to strengthen his perspective.

Compulsory military service is one way to bolster national security and deter threats that might harm our solidarity and peace. Cho has good intentions to equalise the wage gap. Unfortunately, he veers into fallacious territory with arguments containing blindspots and ultimately fails to persuade.

References

30,000 more healthcare workers. (2016, October 20). The Straits Times. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/30000-more-healthcare-workers-needed-by-2020-to-cater-for-singapores-ageing

Bridging the medical talent gap through innovation. (2017, July 24). Singapore Economic Development Board. Retrieved from https://www.edb.gov.sg/en/news-and-events/insights/talent/bridging-the-medical-talent-gap-through-innovation.html

Cho, M. E. (2019, August 27). Let women contribute by doing NS in the community. TODAYonline. Retrieved from https://www.todayonline.com/voices/let-women-contribute-serving-ns-community

Epstein, Y., Yanovich, R., Moran, D. S., & Heled, Y. (2012, December 14). European Journal of Applied Physiology, 113(11), 2673-2690. Retrieved from https://europepmc.org/article/MED/23238928

Khanna, P. (2014, April 26). National service for the 21st century. The Straits Times. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/national-service-for-the-21st-century‌

Persson, A., & Sundevall, F. (2019, March 22). Conscripting women: gender, soldiering, and military service in Sweden 1965–2018. Women’s History Review, 28(7), 1039-1056. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09612025.2019.1596542

Phua, R. (2020, January 9). Women in Singapore earn 6% less than men for similar work: MOM study. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/women-singapore-earn-6-per-cent-less-than-men-wage-gap-12247034

Ranasinghe, D. (2018). The talent crunch is coming to Singapore. Korn Ferry. Retrieved from https://focus.kornferry.com/leadership-and-talent/the-talent-crunch-is-coming-to-singapore/

Tan, T. M. (2019, June 21). SCDF ragging incident: Officer left after carrying NSF to pump well as he did not ‘want to get involved’. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/scdf-ragging-incident-officer-left-after-carrying-nsf-to-pump-well-as-he-did

Wong, P. T. (2019, July 31). TODAYonline.  Retrieved from https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/saf-serviceman-admits-causing-death-aloysius-pang

Yanovich, R., Evans, R., Israeli, E., Constantini, N., Sharvit, N., Merkel, D. … Moran, D. S. (2008). Differences in Physical Fitness of Male and Female Recruits in Gender-Integrated Army Basic Training. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 40(Suppl 1), S654–S659. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Ran_Yanovich/publication/23312289_Differences_in_Physical_Fitness_of_Male_and_Female_Recruits_in_Gender-Integrated_Army_Basic_Training/links/59e45e77a6fdcc7154e10433/Differences-in-Physical-Fitness-of-Male-and-Female-Recruits-in-Gender-Integrated-Army-Basic-Training.pdf