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Conscripts' union calls for voluntary military service scheme

The union proposes a voluntary scheme that could be made obligatory for men and women if there aren't enough volunteers.

Varusmiehiä valkoisissa uniformuissa nuotion ympärillä. Etualalla Sanna Timonen lukee hartaustekstiä vihosta.
More than 12,000 new recruits prepared to report for duty on Monday. Image: Puolustusvoimat

Finland's conscripts' union (Varusmiesliitto) has suggested changing the country's obligatory military service so that women could also compelled to join up if there are not enough available conscripts.

Around 12,000 new recruits from across the country began their first day of conscription with the Finnish Defence Forces on Monday, but only males are forced by law to serve or to carry out alternative civilian service.

Young women can also sign up, but entirely on a voluntary basis.

The topic of adding females to Finland's conscription scheme has heated up in recent months, and the union announced its official position on the matter on Monday.

It said the system should be updated and also include women in the future.

The chair of the conscripts' union, Matias Pajula, said that the current lack of enthusiasm for enlisting among young people shows that many think the current male-only system is unfair.

Pajula pointed to a study published by the Advisory Board for Defence Information (ABDI).

In past generations, conscription has widely been seen as a rite of passage, but the ABDI noted a decrease in enthusiasm for conscription among men under the age of 25.

ABDI is a permanent parliamentary committee which "monitors general preparedness for crisis situations and emergencies in society and studies the related needs with a special focus on communications," according to the Ministry of Defence.

"We think the decrease [in enthusiasm] is caused by many thinking that the conscription system is unequal," Pajula said.

Voluntary, if there are enough volunteers

The union suggested that military service should include volunteer members from a specific age group, regardless of their gender.

One of the side effects of making such a change would mean that members of the Jehovah's Witnesses religion would not likely be compelled to serve in the military, which has been an ongoing debate for decades.

In February, Parliament overturned a law which allowed male Jehovah’s Witnesses to skip military or alternative civilian service without penalty. The exemption, dating from 1987, has been considered problematic from a constitutional standpoint. Now, male members of the religion must carry out military or civilian service or face the consequences, which may include prison.

"We believe conscription should apply to everyone. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses would not necessarily be compelled to serve, if there are many volunteers," Pajula said.

But, if there are not enough volunteers, the Defence Ministry would still be able to make military service obligatory. The union also proposed that both physical and psychological screenings be carried out earlier in the process than they are now, when prospective recruits are called on to serve.

Pajula said that a system similar to the union's proposal is working well in Norway, for example.

"The conscripts' union does not support a model that is entirely voluntary. We propose a voluntary system that can be made obligatory if there aren't enough volunteers," Pajula clarified.

Pre-service screenings

"The screenings during call-outs would ensure an individual's suitability and motivation to serve before enlisting. There are many who are unwilling to serve at the moment, and that isn't good for the [conscript] or for society," Pajula said.

The union chair added that an equal conscription scheme would improve the position of women who serve.

"The idea of women in the military is still considered out of the ordinary. An increase in female soldiers would improve general attitudes," Pajula said.

According to a recent survey on the topic, most people in Finland appear to be against including females in the conscription scheme.

However, that poll also found that younger people were more open to the idea, with 41 percent of people between the ages of 15-24 saying that young women should carry out some form of national service.

But the conscripts' union chair said he was sceptical about such an approach.

"I don't think it is necessary to force national service obligations for a certain period of time on an entire age group. I'd rather see young people advance in their careers and studies," Pajula said.

Last month, Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen requested an analysis of the topic of female conscription. One of his proposals is for young women to perform a couple months of compulsory civilian service which would complement the current system.

But Kaikkonen has said he does not support obligatory military conscription for women.

Yle News' podcast All Points North discussed the topic of female conscription with three experts last month.

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