Japan’s Self-Defense Forces will allow women to serve in Ground Self-Defense Force infantry units, tanks and other roles potentially involving direct combat with enemies, enabling women to apply for virtually all occupational fields in the SDF.
Under the initiative to encourage women to play a more active role, the SDF will also set a goal of boosting the percentage of female personnel, which is currently lower than in other major industrialized nations, the Defense Ministry said Tuesday.
“We aim to make the Self-Defense Forces an attractive organization adapting to the times and environment,” Defense Minister Tomomi Inada told reporters.
The initiative is part of efforts by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government to boost women’s participation in society amid a declining birthrate and aging population.
The ministry initially had not assigned female SDF personnel to positions that could see them engage in direct combat or directly assist combat troops, as well as other physically taxing jobs.
But it largely removed the restrictions in 1993 and has gradually continued to lift the remaining barriers, including serving on Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers and in Air Self-Defense Force fighters.
With the latest change, the ministry is able to hire women in all positions in the Ground, Air and Maritime Self-Defense Forces, except for certain jobs restricted for the purpose of maternal protection, such as some GSDF special units that could face radiation hazards, and MSDF submarines where it is difficult to ensure privacy for women due to their limited space.
The ministry plans to double the proportion of female personnel in the SDF to around 12 percent, although it did not set a specific timeframe.
It also wants to reduce the number of female SDF personnel who quit in the mid-career, often to raise children or to accompany husbands who have been transferred.
As of the end of December, the number of female SDF personnel stood at 13,989, or about 6.1 percent.
The figure falls behind the United States and other major industrialized countries, where women account for somewhere between 10 to 15 percent of military personnel, a ministry official said.