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Finland's Defence Forces aim to recruit more women

A record number of women applied for voluntary military service this year.

Varusmies Anne Juutinen maastoharjoituksissa Niinisalossa kesäkuussa 2021
Recruit Anne Juutinen during a field exercise in Niinisalo, June 2021. Image: Kasper Heimolehto/Yle

The Defence Forces want to encourage more women to sign up for military service, especially as fewer men are enlisting.

A total of 1,675 women applied for voluntary service this year, a new record, and the military is looking at introducing new initiatives aimed at encouraging more potential recruits.

Women aged between 18 and 29 are eligible to apply for voluntary military service.

The measures include ways to make it easier and more comfortable for male and female recruits to share the same living spaces. Previously men and women have lived in different quarters.

"Women do not feel that they are part of the wider group, and that a gap is easily created. The educational and other services should work together, to make it easier for women and men to live together," Teemu Tallberg, professor of military sociology at the National Defence University, told Yle.

Female recruits also reported that information was not distributed to their living areas as much as it was to that of their male counterparts.

"Many things are reported in the hallway. If the women’s room is on a different floor or in a separate building, then the information may not flow. It applies not only to official information, but also to more informal messages," Tallberg added.

Co-living experiment gets positive response

The gender-based separation can also mean that male living quarters are cramped while the female quarters have ample living space, due to the relatively smaller number of female recruits.

In order to redress this imbalance, the military carried out an experiment at the Reserve Officer School in Hamina in which women and men shared the same living quarters. This meant that most common areas were shared, but shower facilities, for example, were separate.

The experiment was later expanded to include brigades in Kainuu and Karelia, and a military survey of recruits found positive reports of the experience. Many recruits noted the sense of team spirit that was forged from living together, although some also said that the option is not for everyone.

Story continues after the photo.

Suomen puolustusvoimien alokaskoulutus Santahaminassa, varusmies punkassaan, kännykkä kädessään
The co-living experiment is currently being conducted in six different brigades. Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle
Recruit Anne Juutinen told Yle that she was initially reluctant to share living spaces with the male recruits when she signed up to the Karelian brigade, but changed her opinion after the first field exercise.

"There is no such thing as a female tent in the terrain, so women are among the men. When I was the only woman in the men's tent there, I realised that we are all just part of the same group," Juutinen said.

Corporal Juuso Nihtilä said he agreed to co-share as soon as he entered the service, as he wanted to meet as many people as possible during his military service, regardless of gender.

"I think everyone in the army should be at the same starting line. There is no need for segregation in accommodation or anywhere else," Nihtilä said.

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