Women in the Austrian Armed Forces

By Pfarr, Dietmar | Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military, Fall-Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Women in the Austrian Armed Forces


Pfarr, Dietmar, Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military


Politico-Historical Background

During the last decades many countries offered women the possibility of joining the Armed Forces. In Austria the first high-level political discussion of women joining the military took place in late spring 1995. The political opposition wanted to create the legal basis for women to become members of the Austrian Armed Forces, to ensure equal rights, especially the free choice of occupation and equal opportunity.

But in 1993, even before that political discussion started, the Austrian Officer's Association, an independent organization whose aims are to inform the public about security policy issues and to be a link between politics, the armed forces, and society, had begun to force the issue.(1) The association commissioned a study of "Women as Soldiers" to create the scientific background and to lay the foundation for public dialogue.

After joining the European Union in 1995, Austria had to change its regulations and was confronted with a legal directive about equal opportunities for men and women. Thus, in summer 1995, the National Defence Academy (NDA) received an order to prepare a study on "Consequences of the Access of Women to the Armed Forces." This study was carried out by the Armed Forces & Society division of the Institute for Strategic Research under the guidance of Col. Dr. Edwin Micewski. I myself have been a researcher in this division, which deals with issues related to the armed forces and society, since 1998.

The study dealt, among other dimensions, with legal problems, sociopolitical aspects, pro and contra arguments in public debate, and the published results of research such as the analysis of public opinion polls. The study also included comparisons with other countries and their armed forces. One aim was to inform the public on precisely this topic.

It was necessary to point out, and the study made it clear from the beginning, that the access of women to the armed forces was not planned because of a lack of conscripts; the reason was neither to militarize society nor to create a debate about extending conscription or changing the military into an all volunteer force. The main intention has been to meet EU requirements and to create a contemporary environment for women.

In Austria, discussions about the armed forces are always controversial. Due to the recent history of the country and the different approaches of the political parties to questions of security and defense, the attitudes of the politicians are very ambivalent and sometimes ambiguous. Austria has been a member of the United Nations since 1955 and a member of the EU, with its Common Foreign and Security Policy, since 1995. Austria joined the PfP that same year, but is also a permanently neutral state. It is, thus, very difficult in my country to have a non-ideological discussion about security affairs. Every political party has its own opinions. Thus one objective of the study was to provide an objective basis that would cut across political parties and ideological barriers.

The major results and recommendations of the study of the Institute for Strategic Research were as follows:

* The international review revealed that in all countries the legal framework for women in the armed forces is basically the same as for male soldiers. However, in many countries practical differences exist, especially with regard to combat functions or the use of women in specific branches (submarines or special forces). In general, the introduction of women as soldiers into the armed forces is accepted both socially and militarily.

* No legal restrictions forbid the access of women to the Austrian Armed Forces. Our constitution does, however, restrict conscription to all male citizens.

* Women should be given the same career opportunities as men; female soldiers should not be confined to inferior positions.

* There should be no limitations confining women to specific branches; however, giving women access to combat functions should be considered separately. …

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