SINGAPORE: The increased use of technology in the military has opened up more roles for women, with 2014 seeing the highest number of women recruited in recent years.
There are currently about 1,500 uniformed women in the force, making up 7 per cent of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
ME2 Rajeswary Pandian Suppiah is among that 7 per cent. She supports air force operations at Changi Air Base (East), processing about 20 to 25 flights a day. She also has to take on 24-hour shifts to watch over the nation's airspace.
ME2 Rajeswary Pandian Suppiah, an air operations and systems expert. (Photo: Ngau Kai Yan)
While she is glad to see more women joining the military, she cautions that the career path may not be for everyone.
"The military environment is just not like in the civil sector where you work normal hours,” she said. “When you don the uniform, there are expectations of you, such as discipline, you need to have ethics and you need to be strong when you are training."
ME2 Rajeswary has been in the air force for close to two decades now. In the last 10 years, she has trained about 100 service personnel, of which six are women.
BALANCING WORK AND FAMILY
Over at Tuas Naval Base, the Navy's first female Master Chief of a squadron said that starting a family, while in the service, is not an issue as long as one is able to find a balance between demands from work and family.
ME3 Cham Gek Ping’s unit provides logistics support for the Navy's operations and exercises.
The mother of two has about 150 uniformed service personnel reporting to her, 10 of whom are mothers themselves.
"All of us have to perform our regimental duties,” she said. “For example, when they do security duty, which is overnight, that requires them to work 24 hours so they have to make arrangements to take care of their kids at home."
ME3 Cham Gek Ping, Master Chief of Force Support Squadron. (Photo: Ngau Kai Yan)
ME3 Cham said that like any other workplace, the military does have flexible work schemes to cater to women during and after pregnancy, but she was at work daily until she reached full term. She added that after 24 years in the service, it is clear that job advancement is all about ability and a strong sense of duty.
OVERCOMING THE PERCEPTION OF A MILITARY CAREER
The SAF has been aggressively recruiting women over the last few years. Efforts paid off, with about 140 servicewomen joining the SAF in 2014. This is double the number of women who joined the SAF yearly since 2010.
As the SAF seeks to gradually increase its pool of women, one challenge is the perception that a military career is only about frontline combat roles.
Colonel Francis Kee, head of the joint manpower department at SAF, said: "Technology has shifted quite a bit in the military and today we use a lot of unmanned systems, a lot of mechanisation and this allows more women to step forward to serve in the military. So we have stepped up raising the awareness of the different career options.
“There are a couple of ways, (such as) mailers and job fairs. We bring together the like-minded ones who just want to understand the SAF a little bit more and we will talk to them and give them that touch of which scheme or which vocation they are more suitable for."
Citing examples of servicewomen in physically demanding vocations, such as guards, commanders or naval divers, SAF added that no role in the military is closed to women, as long as they can prove that they are able to do it.
"Within the SAF, the women are deployed on a merit basis,” said Colonel Kee. “As long as they meet the operational standards and requirements, we are prepared to consider them, deploy them and advance them the same way as we do for our servicemen."
Singapore's first female one-star general was appointed in 2015.
With more women rising to key positions within the military, the SAF hopes that this will further convince women that it can be a viable career. SAF said while it is looking to recruit more women, there are no specific targets to meet.