TALLINN - The desire of young women to contribute to the national defense of Estonia has increased significantly, with the number of young women who have voluntarily entered conscript service doubling in the last four years.
While in 2018 there were 27 young women in Estonia who entered conscript service voluntarily, this number has grown every year since then. Altogether 38 women started conscript service in 2019 and in 2020 there were already 54. Last year, 60 young women started conscript service in different military units in Estonia. A total of 179 young women have entered conscript service in four years.
"It was once indeed the case that only young men were expected to join the Estonian conscript service and women were left in the background. Today, one of the goals of Estonian national defense is to offer equal opportunities to everyone, and women in military service are not the exception, but the rule," Merle Peedoson, head of the department dealing with persons liable to national defense obligation at the Defense Resources Agency, said.
According to Peedoson, there are many reasons why young women want to do conscript service. Some just want to challenge themselves after high school, others want to take a break to think before continuing their studies. There are also those who see conscript service as an opportunity to start a versatile career path. "Today, a woman who has completed conscript service is valued in the eyes of employers, especially in the field of defense, but other important areas have also begun to value the experience gained from conscript service as a significant added value of the employee," Peedoson said.
According to Peedoson, the reason behind women's growing interest is active information work. "For several years now, we have been organizing conscript service information days aimed at women, where young people get an overview of taking up a national defense obligation and what goes with it. In addition, we regularly go to schools to talk to high school students, where the listeners are both young women and men. We are in the picture whenever possible and we are looking for new channels to reach women," she said.
Outreach is important to help young people gain a better understanding of the nature of military service, as well as further career opportunities in the defense forces.
While, according to the law, young men are required to complete conscript service, women are recruited on the basis of voluntary applications submitted to the Defense Resources Agency. All women with Estonian citizenship aged 18-27 can submit an application online.
Peedoson emphasized that an application should not be submitted lightly, as it must be taken into account that conscript service comes with a national defense obligation, which will last until the age of 61. "In conscript service, women have the opportunity to change their mind within 90 days, but after that the commitment has been made and it can no longer be revoked," she said.
Once the applicant's health has been checked and they meet the requirements for conscript service, she can choose which unit to go to serve in. According to Peedoson, all units are ready to enlist women in conscript service, and the young woman's wish will be taken into account in the choice of location and time. "The only obstacle may be if you come to us too late -- then the units may already have been assembled. Hence the call for young women to submit their application as early as possible," Peedoson added.
In addition, a woman considering conscript service should decide whether she wants to serve in an 11-month service that begins in the winter and summer or in an eight-month service that begins in the fall. "It is assumed that all women with a secondary education and a driver's license should serve 11 months. Women who have concluded their education before completing secondary education for a variety of reasons generally serve eight months. Of course, if a young woman with a secondary education definitely wants to serve eight months, we will not stop her from doing so. In this respect, women have an advantage," Peedoson said.
At the same time, she noted that 11 months of conscript service help towards a career in the defense forces, as the heads of subunits are trained in 11 months of conscript service.
The duties of male and female conscripts are exactly the same. The training takes place on a uniform basis, only the standards of the general physical test differ. However, there is one exception for women: they can end their conscript service in the first 90 days.