Women can serve in all roles in the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF), Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces Gen. Riho Terras said on Thursday.
"Estonia is too small to leave half of our population out of national defense," Terras said in remarks released ahead of a conference titled "Women, Peace and Security." "This is true for the defense forces as well — we have neither specialties nor units where women's participation would be barred or restricted due to gender. Women do not have to be only medics or members of the signal corps; they can serve in all roles in the EDF."
In his opening remarks at the conference, the Estonian defense chief said that the ideology of a popular military is central to Estonia's defense forces.
"We are for the people, by the people, and of this people," he said. "For no reason whatsoever should we deprive half of the population of Estonia of the privilege to be a full-fledged and functioning part of Estonia's national defense."
Terras pointed out that there has been no significant progress in women's participation in the EDF in the past decade.
"Changing gender roles that have been in place for thousands of years in order for this to become organic and normal is not as easy as we think we can accomplish by making declarations, writing laws, or allocating money," he said. "Home and school are places where these roles are maintained."
Terras said that men and women alike have accepted these gender roles, however the needs of today's defense forces are different. There are not enough men joining the military, and the skills required in the defense forces have changed alongside the nature of war.
"The women who enter service tend to wish to be men and demonstrate that they are equal to men or like men," said Terras. "Yet what we need is not men's, but women's skills and knowledge, which men, I must admit, have difficulty doing. We do not need genderless people... but a women's take on things, and from men the acceptance of the fact that women think and do things differently, just like they do at home, in school, at university. This is normal, and understanding it and accepting it makes sense."
The main speaker at the conference was Lt. Col. Magdalena Dvořáková, director of the International Military Staff Office of the Gender Advisor and chair of the NATO Committee on Gender Perspectives. Experts from seven countries, including Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Belgium and Germany, were scheduled to deliver reports at the conference, which is focused this year on the experience of Nordic countries in involving women in the armed forces, military conflicts and pst-conflict activities.
Altogether 120 people from 13 countries, including China, Ukraine, the U.K. and the U.S., are taking part in the conference.
Editor: Aili Vahtla