OSLO Norway's parliament voted overwhelmingly on Friday to conscript women into its armed forces, becoming the first European and first NATO country to make military service compulsory for both genders.
"Rights and duties should be the same for all," said Labour lawmaker Laila Gustavsen, a supporter of the bill. "The armed forces need access to the best resources, regardless of gender, and right now mostly men are recruited."
Norway has been at the forefront in the fight for gender equality, introducing measures such as requiring all public limited companies to fill at least 40 percent of their board seats with women. On Wednesday the country celebrated a century since Norwegian women won the right to vote.
Women make up half of the current government, and opposition leader Erna Solberg is expected to become Norway's second female prime minister in elections later this year, according to opinion polls which indicate her Conservative Party and its allies will win a parliamentary majority.
"This is historic. For me it is fantastic to make history, for the armed forces and for women," Gustavsen said.
NATO member Norway has reduced its armed forces since the end of the Cold War and spends heavily on technology to keep a small but advanced military.
Women already serve in the military, but do so of their own volition. They make up a tenth of the armed forces, according to the ministry of defence.
The change is not expected to force women to serve against their will but should help improve the gender balance.
All young people can be conscripted in theory, but since the end of the Cold War the Norwegian armed forces have become more selective in choosing conscripts as their needs have changed.
Those who do not want to serve can often find a reason, such as university studies, to avoid the draft.
"In theory, it is possible (women would have to serve against their will), just as it can happen to men," Gustavsen said.
"But in practice, the armed forces recruit the most motivated young people."
(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche; Writing by Balazs Koranyi; Editing by Pravin Char)