India will allow women to take up combat roles across all three branches of the military, the country’s President said this week, indicating a path to gender equality in one of the world’s largest armies.
“In the future, my government will induct women in all fighter streams of our armed forces,” President Pranab Mukherjee said in an address to the Indian Parliament, according to Reuters.
Women only make up 2.5% of the Indian army’s million-plus personnel, mostly in medical or administrative roles. The army has largely resisted a move to induct women into combat, expressing concerns over their ability to handle the high physical strain and vulnerability in case of capture.
That has begun to change in recent months, however, with the government approving a proposal by the Indian air force last October to train female fighter pilots by mid-2017. An all-women army contingent also marched at India’s landmark Republic Day Parade last month, a first in the country’s history.
India joins the U.S. — who recently opened up all combat roles to women in the military — and only a handful of other countries, including Israel, Germany and Australia, in permitting women on the front lines.