Finland has second thoughts about its women soldiers

“I decided long ago I would do military service,” says Saara Piitulainen, a 22-year-old voluntary servicewoman. “My father was a peacekeeper, and that is what I want to do myself.”

She has come to the right place. The Huovinrinne garrison in Sakyla in western Finland is where Finnish peacekeeping forces train before they leave for crisis areas around the world. Now she is training to be a non-commissioned officer.

Finnish women have been doing voluntary military service since before Saara Piitulainen was born and this year a record 1,500 applied. In a few days’ time she will be promoted to corporal.

But for the first time since the military was opened up to women in 1995, the idea has been floated of temporarily excluding them as a way of cutting costs.

“We have to find savings somewhere,” said Defence Minister Jussi Niinisto. A couple of days later, after a heated debate, he rejected the idea and said he didn’t even back it himself.

Should women serve and if so how?

But his short-lived proposal has shone a light on the separate roles of men and women, in a country where men have to serve up to a year of military or civilian (community) service from the age of 18 while women can choose.

Finns are now asking if voluntary service is good for women and whether or not it is the right model for their armed forces.

“One of the best things about women in the forces is their strong motivation,”…

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