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GoI Defends Navy’s Right to Bar Women from At‑Sea Careers

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Sep 12, 2018

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Before the Delhi High Court yesterday, the government defended the Navy’s policy of not inducting women into branches of the Navy that require time at sea for promotion. Except, the GoI affidavit revealed it really has no excuse for the discriminatory policy. The ‘defense,’ as reported by PTI, amounted to a re-statement of the obvious: The policy of keeping women from at-sea service is policy because it’s policy.

In defense of its position, the government pointed to the induction of women into the ranks of education, logistics and legal branches of the Navy — branches that do not require at-sea service for promotion. And then it asked for a break — the Navy’s working on it, guys.

“The induction of women officers into the Navy has been incremental, graduated, and progressive,” reads the government’s affidavit.

That’s one way to describe it. Painfully and unnecessarily drawn out is another. The Indian Navy has the worst gender ratio of all branches of the armed services. Keeping women from building careers at sea has only created a ‘separate but equal’ force — which, as past experiments with the ‘separate but equal’ concept has proven, is really just inequality dressed up in flashy clothing. The fact that women are allowed only some of the career paths within the Navy (and have only gained access to Naval careers at all quite recently) while men enjoy all career paths, is “institutional discrimination,” which is the very point of contention in the plea before Delhi High Court.

The decision to defend such a discriminatory policy with a ‘What can you do? It is what it is’ argument — as if stating the obvious is an argument; as if policies can’t change — explains why women are still fighting for equality 25 years after initial efforts to make naval ranks more gender-inclusive. Some ideas — that women should have careers or don’t want them; that protection and defense are a man’s work — die hard.

One of those ideas specifically is that the inclusion of women at sea is difficult and would require making complicated and expensive accommodations; it’s not attitudes, it’s the preparation that’s getting in the way of equality.

“Everyone has just a bunk size space for themselves. Partitioning is also done to optimize whatever space is available. Ships are generally divided into 2-3 categories,” a former naval officer told LiveMint earlier this year. “A ship is close to having 200 people. In this, we have, say, two or three women officers. And since as part of our culture, it is essential for women to be given space and privacy, they’d need a separate category. More segregation means more space is required.”

The unnamed officer’s remarks speak to the Navy’s — and the government’s — philosophy toward gender equality, a philosophy that conflates inclusion with accommodation, and equality with segregation. No one is asking the Navy to make special space for women — they’re asking that women be treated exactly the same.

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Written By Liesl Goecker

Liesl Goecker is The Swaddle’s managing editor and has been living and writing in Mumbai since 2010. She is passionate about women’s rights, everyone’s health, and caffeine.

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