Court Finds Indian Army’s Practice as ‘Gender Discrimination’

The Indian Professional Nurses Association (IPNA) filed a plea against the Indian Army challenging their exclusion of men from nursing in the Indian Army. In the hearing, the Bench found that this was “blatant discrimination” and the government was given a deadline to come up with a decision on the matter.

The IPNA initially addressed the Delhi High Court in May this year claiming that the provisions of the Indian Military Nursing Service Ordinance and the Military Nursing Services (India) Rules, dating from the 1940’s, could not be justified. The requirement that only women could be appointed as nurses in the army violated the constitution – it was arbitrary, unreasonable and violated the principle of equality – and therefore the Constitution.

The Association argued that there were thousands of men qualified as professional nurses in India and not admitting them to the army deprived them of employment opportunities and professional advancement. At the same time, it deprived the army and the nation as a whole of committed professionals. It also added to the stigma against male nurses and made them feel unwanted.

While statistics on the percentage of men in nursing in India are not readily available, it appears that nursing has recently become more popular as a career choice among men. The numbers of male student nurses are increasing rapidly – representing up to 30% of the nursing student body. While men represent around 10% of the profession in most countries, some Indian hospitals report that around 20% of their professional nursing workforce is men.

At the hearing on October 8, the bench referred to the practice of employing only women as antiquated and stereotyped. The court ruled that the Indian Army was practicing gender discrimination by employing only women as nurses. “It is gender discrimination, only other way around,” said Chief Justice Rajendra Menon.

The Central Government was given two months to come up with a resolution on the subject whereupon the Army requested six months in order to consult all its bases. “We are in a digital world. Get everyone on video conferencing and take a decision.” the court responded in denying the request. The next hearing will take place on January 21, 2019.

In 1901, the US military nursing corps no longer allowed men to serve as nurses. This rule was only turned around in 1955 during the Korean War when nurses were needed to serve on the front lines.

Frieda Paton is a registered nurse with a Master’s degree in nursing education. Her passion for nursing education, nursing issues and advocacy for the profession were ignited while she worked as an education officer, and later editor, at a national nurses’ association. This passion, together with interest in health and wellness education since her student days, stayed with her throughout her further career as a nurse educator and occupational health nurse. Having reached retirement age, she continues to contribute to the profession as a full-time freelance writer. In the news and feature articles she writes for Nurseslabs, she hopes to inspire nursing students and nurses on the job to reflect on the trends and issues that affect their profession and communities - and play their part in advocacy wherever they find themselves.

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