By Alyosius Chia / Image credit: The Singapore Army Facebook
It has been reported in The Straits Times (‘NSmen to get more perks in health care, housing, education’, 25th April 2014) that a package of benefits is being considered for men who have served National Service.
Though the details are scant and not out yet, an uproar have been voiced by the women’s advocacy group, AWARE, that gender should not be the basis of such benefits. Presumably, there are other women not in the group who disagree with such gendered benefits.
Men claim that such benefits are recognition for their contributions that justifies the years lost that could be used for something else; that makes up for a marginal salary and duty that takes two years. These additional benefits they say, are tokens, not preferential treatment.
Though it is true that participating in the military conveys some level of intangible contribution, which some men think true, it is equally important to take into consideration the concerns of women as well.
Not least because women contribute to security in other ways, such as working and contributing to the economy, which supports the military, they take responsibility in other ways that are not easily seen or heard.
If a woman is not working she could be taking charge of a household, or being involved in a family. She could be contributing to the community, or pursuing her own growth. She could be doing other things that are the equivalent of what men do when they are not in the military.
Thus, when women say they are being ignored by the benefits that go to men but not them, they are not necessarily raising an issue that do not exist.
In the first place, because they are excluded from military service, it is impossible for them to claim any right to what seems obvious to many.
That those who serve in the military should be given some perks are often accepted as a given because it is noticeable; but just because it is noticeable do not mean that there are others who do not contribute indirectly.
Women do so and very often, they are not rewarded. If men work two years less than women then means that women are contributing two years more to the economy, assuming they work the same number of years.
They are doing so in ways that, although not a potential sacrifice of life, are sacrifices in other ways. They have emotional connections to men and are an indelible part of society.
Yet, this recognition, as in the case of benefit packages, seems only dedicated to men.
That men would be dissatisfied if their contributions to NS are inadequately recognized should make it understandable why some women are being vocal about this.
They have very good reason to feel unhappy if they think they have contributed as much to larger society.
Maybe it is time for men to pay heed to the voices of these women, rather than assuming that they are advocating for women’s advantage. In the end, it may not be so obvious what the net advantages are for women and men in the first place.
These benefits that women are referring to could simply be ways of keeping men together in more cohesive ways in a conscript army that depends on more than a regular salary.
But men need to pay more perceptively to the concerns of women. If they truly believe that women are equals, then it is necessary to recognize so, and see the issue from their point of view with what is really a concern and interest of everybody.
Disclaimer: I am not a member of AWARE, and have no affiliations with any member of AWARE. I have served national service.