In Switzerland all able men must serve in the country’s military when they turn 18. Women can sign up however this is not legally required and few do.
The minimum military training male Swiss citizens must undertake depends on rank. For the lowest rank of corporal the minimum is 260 days, which starts with initial training of 124 or 145 days followed by 19 day sessions, seven for those opting for the shorter initial training and six for those choosing the longer one. A corporal must serve until the age of 30. Men who don’t serve must pay a special additional tax of 3% from the age of 20 until 30. Only those with a major handicap can avoid service or the tax. Some may qualify for roles in civil defence however this lasts until the age of 40 and the military has priority.
For Swiss men the process starts with a compulsory information day when they are 18. Women may attend voluntarily.
According to the Zurich newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), cantonal military directors recently agreed that they are happy for this military information day to become compulsory for 18-year-old Swiss women too, potentially from 2020. Alexander Krethlow, secretary general of governmental military affairs said “We want to attract more women to serve in the army, civil service, civil defence and the Red Cross. Going forward not only boys will be required to attend the information day.”
The idea was launched in February by Daniel Baumgartner, the new commander of ground forces, with the support of Guy Parmelin, Federal councillor and head of the department of defence, civil protection and sports.
A first draft of the plan will be presented to National Council and States Council security commissions in June.
Kathrin Bertschy, vice president of Alliance F, an organisation promoting workforce gender equality, thinks it is a positive move. “If you only include half of potential candidates it is impossible to create the best teams. Given we have an army, the principle of obligatory service should be applied to everyone” said the national councillor.
Young men who fail to turn up for the information day without presenting a valid excuse risk fines. To make the same fines applicable to women would require a change to the military criminal code however national councillor Edith Graf-Litscher said that because it is a limited change there would be no need to hold a referendum, or popular vote. However she thinks it would make more sense to inform girls while they are at school or studying. She also thinks it is pointless to force women to attend if they are not interested in the army.
Might these discussions might be the first step towards making military service compulsory for Swiss women?
Military service obligation (in French) – Take a 5 minute French test now
20 Minutes article (in French)
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