Women will soon be able to serve in combat roles in the Indian army, navy and air force, marking a move towards gender equality in a country with a male-dominated military.
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee made the announcement on Feb. 23, saying that in the future, women would be recruited to fight in the military, according to Al Jazeera. They will also continue to serve in non-combat roles.
This makes India one of just a few countries -- including Australia, Germany, Israel and the United States -- that have allowed women to take on fighting roles.
"My government has approved the induction of women as short service commission officers and as fighter pilots in the Indian Air Force,” Mukherjee said, according to Al Jazeera. “In the future, my government will induct women in all the fighter streams of our armed forces."
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"In our country 'Shakti,' which means power, is the manifestation of female energy," he added. "This Shakti defines our strength.”
The Indian standing army is currently the third-largest in the world, according to World Atlas. This makes the move to include women all the more significant, as currently only 2.5 percent of its 1,325,450 personnel are female, Al Jazeera notes. The Indian government was previously hesitant to allow women to fight because of concerns over physical and mental stress as well as their vulnerability if captured.
Women’s rights activists commended the move, which was put into motion in October 2015 when the Indian government approved female pilots to fly warplanes in the Indian Air Force starting in June 2017. This plan is scheduled to operate on a three-year trial basis.
After Mukherjee’s announcement, Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar clarified that women’s integration into combat roles would be carried out in a “phased manner" with the timeline yet to be determined, according to the Times of India.