16-year-old student writes ST forum letter saying women should do NS to boost S'pore's birth rate

The letter said that NS should be 'compulsory' for women.

Tanya Ong | March 22, 2021, 11:20 AM

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"We can boost Singapore's birth rate by making it compulsory for women to serve national service alongside men," 16-year-old student Wang Lixin wrote in a Straits Times (ST) forum letter.

ST forum letter: Women should serve NS

The letter, titled "Voices of youth: Let women serve National Service to help raise birth rates", suggested that women should serve NS.

One reason given was that it would increase the size of our defence force.

Another main reason: birth rates.

In the letter, Wang explained that women will interact with men during national service, and this would enable relationships to be forged.

Although not explicitly stated, it is implied that these relationships would then result in marriages and offspring at some point.

Wang also added that the approach of having both men and women serve NS in Israel has been "effective", with their birth rate of 20 births per 1,000 people for a population of around nine million.

Singapore, however, has 8.5 births per 1,000 people for a population of 5.69 million.

Discussion on women serving NS

The entire discussion of having women do NS is not new.

A Today article published in 2019 gathered various viewpoints on the issue, with some mentioning how conscription for women should not be for the sake of "equality", but rather, considering the various ways in which citizens can contribute to defence.

This article was in response to a suggestion to "let women contribute by doing NS in the community".

In 2015, a Straits Times op-ed written by Ho Kwon Ping also agreed that the reasons for female conscription should be underpinned by a "national need".

In his piece, he argues how this "national need" can be expanded to go beyond military defence.

Background to conscription in Singapore

NS was implemented in 1967, and has always been exclusively for males only.

The idea of women serving NS, however, had been floated in the early days. And it was Lee Kuan Yew who suggested having women serve. In The Singapore Story, he wrote:

"I was keen to have our women do national service as Israeli women did, because that would reinforce the people's will to defend themselves. But Keng Swee did not want his new ministry to carry this extra burden. As the other ministers in Defco (Defence Council) were also not anxious to draft our women, I did not press my point."

In 2013, then-Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said that the SAF would expand opportunities for women to volunteer.

To allow women to experience a slice of NS life, the first women's 2D1N military boot camp was held in 2018.

Top photo: Ministry of Defence/YouTube.