Saturday, September 24, 2011

Relax : inequality isn't an equality issue

A number of years ago, I discovered that because of my dual nationality, I was required by law to register with the American military in case there was another Vietnam-style draft. This was something I wouldn't have had to do if I was a woman. Of course, at the time, it was the idea of getting my brains blown out (to use the Blackadder term) for a country I'd never even lived in that irritated me considerably more than the inequality issue, but the latter point didn't go unnoticed all the same. It wasn't a big deal in the end because there was never any real danger of being conscripted, but there are of course a number of Western democracies in which conscription is routine, and which operate a discriminatory policy between the genders. One of them is Finland, and if the translations in this not-so-old article are accurate, some of the 'non-justification justifications' for upholding that discrimination in a supposed age of gender equality are truly wondrous to behold -

"Finland’s Minister for Equality Affairs Stefan Wallin (Swedish People’s Party) says that he does not want to change the current system, even though he understands “that not everyone feels that it is equal if an obligation applies to only one gender.""

Ah, not everyone feels that is equal, do they? I wonder if the (now former) Minister for "Equality Affairs" could explain in plain language how anyone in their right mind could possibly conclude that such a state of affairs is in any reasonable sense of the word "equal"?

“What would be the alternative? This requires a broad-based approach. I have pondered this as both the equality minister, and as a captain of the reserves, and the present system is the best that is available.”

Yes, what could possibly be the alternative, Stefan? It's a real poser, there's no denying it. Now let me see. How about this - either conscription is made compulsory for both genders, or for neither. Or, if there is some kind of mystical perfection to the current numbers, there could be a lottery under which exactly 50% of all men and women are randomly conscripted. That took me all of five seconds.

“The country’s security, and the coverage of state expenditure can never be based on voluntary contributions. The state needs taxes to be paid by everyone, and military service from men.”

Hmmm. I wonder if "not everyone" would agree that the above statement is entirely fair and equal. After all, I would think it was quite unfair if a politician was to say "the state needs military service from everyone, and taxes to be paid by women", but then maybe I'm just weird.

"Arto Satonen (Nat. Coalition Party), the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Equality, also does not see military discrimination against men as a problem. “There is no point in making this an equality issue. National defence is more important.”"

OK, so now it is indeed "unequal", but that's not a "problem". Do you know what I'm beginning to suspect is the real problem here - appointing so many flippin' militarists as spokespeople on "equality". It's the rough equivalent of appointing Sir Peter Tapsell as Minister for Women.

"Minister of Defence Jyri Häkämies (Nat. Coalition Party) takes the same view. “I have not noticed widespread support for the equality point of view, so we will continue on the basis of the present model.”"

So now equality doesn't matter a damn as long as politicians don't "notice" the majority of people actively supporting it? Heaven help minority groups if that's the guiding principle in Finland.

"Häkämies and Wallin would be ready to send draft letters to women, to inform women about their option of military service. However, both ministers would keep women’s military service voluntary."

Oh well, say no more, chaps. Who needs equality before the law when you're perfectly prepared to write to women to helpfully remind them that they alone have the right to choose?

The article concludes with two comments by feminists, which can only be described as weasel words -

"The chairwoman of the Feminist Association Unioni, Henna Leppämäki, does see male conscription as an equality issue.

“However, Unioni will not be the first to demand the abolition of conscription. I would hope that men would grab on to this. We will certainly support them.”

Leena Ruusuvuori, Secretary-General of the National Council of Women of Finland, says that conscription can be seen to contain problems for gender equality.

Ruusuvuori, who once opposed the current system of voluntary military service for women, nevertheless feels that the first priority should be to make the Defence Forces more equal, and only then to address the matter of conscription."

So Ms Leppämäki will not "be the first" to demand the end to conscription, but in the meantime is she "the first" to demand that women should be subject to compulsory conscription on the same basis as men while she umms and errs on the broader point? It's hard to imagine many other gender equality issues on which a feminist union would feel it "wasn't its place" to speak out about, and that it should instead let "men" (in a startlingly non-specific sense) take the lead on.

As for Ms Ruusuvuori, perhaps she could explain how on earth the Defence Forces can possibly be made more equal before addressing the issue of discriminatory rules on conscription?

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