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Norwegian Women Stake Claim in Male Bastions as Fighter Pilots, on Submarines

November 15, 1992|STELLA BUGGE | REUTERS

OSLO — Norwegian women, who long ago shattered the dominance of men in politics, are breaking into one of the last male bastions--the military.

Women have taken jobs as fighter pilots and submarine officers and can be found in foreign hot spots as part of United Nations peacekeeping forces.

And if a war erupts, Norwegian women are not barred from combat as they are in several other North Atlantic Treaty Organization states.

"We have come further than many other (NATO members)," Defense Minister Johan Joergen Holst told Reuters.

"Some have problems imagining what it is like, being under command of a woman, but that's easy. I'm a member of a government under the command of a woman and that's no problem whatsoever."

Norway's Labor government is headed by Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland and both the opposition Conservative Party and the agrarian Center Party have women leaders--with the result that about two-thirds of the electorate are led by women.

Women make up only 2.6% of Norway's total armed forces and 4.4% of the officers.

Norway fully opened the army, the navy and the air force to women almost 10 years ago. But a few positions within the United Nations peacekeeping operations remain closed.

"People have a lot of expectations of a woman fighter pilot," said 2nd Lt. Mette Groetteland, one of Norway's two women jet fighter pilots. "I feel that my colleagues lose respect if I have a bad day of flying."

But 23-year-old Groetteland, who flies F-16s and will be cleared for combat in December, does not feel discriminated against, although some people raise their eyebrows when they hear what she does for a living.

"Clearly, many encounter somewhat old-fashioned male attitudes on what is a woman's role and what is a man's role since the military in many ways is the last male bastion," Holst said.

But some of the women say they are not treated any differently than their male colleagues.

"I don't feel like a pioneer and I don't think much about the fact that I'm a woman," said 22-year-old Kristin Pedersen, who will have to serve 12 compulsory years with the air force when she finishes her fighter pilot training.

When planning their careers, both Groetteland and Pedersen imagined themselves in well-paid jobs within civil aviation at a later stage in life. Now they don't.

"Civil aviation is just like driving a taxi," said Groetteland, who said she would miss the challenges and excitement of flying loops, bombing raids and air-to-air combat when patrolling Norwegian airspace.

Norway forms the northern flank of NATO and shares an Arctic border with Russia.

But some women may soon find it harder to join the military as Norway plans major personnel cuts to trim the armed forces now that the Cold War is over.

Earlier this year, a government-appointed commission recommended that Norway should slash a quarter of its 25,000 defense jobs.

"We don't put special emphasis on recruiting more and more women since we have to slim the organization," said Holst, who announced in October that the defense budget would have to be cut by 2.4% in real terms next year.

Though jobs may be under the axe at home, Norway is still very much involved in U.N. peacekeeping forces and women now want all these jobs opened to them.

"We no longer accept that we cannot do a certain job abroad just because we are women. We want a debate on this," said Bente Sleppen, an air force personnel officer who has served with the United Nations in Lebanon.

But Holst said certain U.N. positions might still only be filled by men. "We might wish to reform the attitude to women in some Muslim countries, but we cannot do that through decisions made by the Norwegian Defense Ministry."

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