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Indian Para-military women soldiers of Assam Rifles march during the rehearsals for the upcoming Republic Day parade on Rajpath, the ceremonial boulevard, in New Delhi, India, Jan. 14, 2019.
Manish Swarup/AP
Girls & Women

Women Can Now Hold Command Positions in India’s Army

Why Global Citizens Should Care
This move will empower women economically and socially in India. The United Nations urges countries to promote gender equality as part of the campaign to end poverty under Global Goal 5 to achieve gender equality. You can join us in taking action on this and related issues here.

India’s Supreme Court ruled on Monday that women can serve as army commanders and receive permanent commission in the Indian army, in what is being called a landmark decision, CNN reported.

This ruling means that women will be able to serve longer terms and potentially achieve higher ranks, leading to higher salaries, and more leadership opportunities, according to CNN.

Women are currently inducted into the army through short service commissions ranging from 10 to 14 years. They are only allowed permanent commission in the legal and educational wings of the army, according to Al Jazeera.

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Women routinely face discrimination and harassment within the military, BBC reports

One female officer had served for 26 years in the Indian army, yet did not receive the same benefits as men, one lawyer representing the women told the BBC. Female officers have felt compelled to leave the army because they would not get a pension or medical benefits after retiring. Currently, women only make up about 3.8% of the Indian army.

Even with this breakthrough, women will still not be able to serve in combat units such as the infantry. The court said that a “competent authority” needed to decide on this issue, Al Jazeera reported.

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However, the ruling does mean that women can command army battalions, or head the intelligence department, according to CNN, posts that are not on the frontlines.

One of the lawyers representing the female officers said that promotions to command positions would be decided on a case-by-case basis.

India’s government had opposed granting these rights to women, arguing that most male soldiers would not accept a female commander, and that male and female officers were physically different, according to Al Jazeera.

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"To cast aspersion on their abilities on the ground of gender is an affront not only to their dignity as women but to the dignity of the members of the Indian Army," judges said in their ruling.

Women in India still face many obstacles to claiming their equal rights.

One rape is reported every 15 minutes in the country, and women only make up about 25% of the country’s workforce. The number of women in India’s parliament is well below the global average, and in 2018 India was called the world’s worst country for women, due to a high risk of sexual violence and being forced into slave labor.