Women in the Danish Armed Forces




























                              Article prepared for the US Army Research Institute, ARI,


                                             of the Behavioral and Social Sciences


































                                                                  January 2002






















                                                                                                           Henning  Sørensen,  ISF




This article on women in the Danish Armed Forces concentrates on two main integration perspectives: The political integration, i.e. the legal basis decided by Parliament and Government for Danish women to serve as soldiers, and the organizational integration decided by the military organization consisting of four elements: A military integration, i.e. the distribution of women in either the Armed or the Military Forces, a horizontal integration, i.e. the distribution of women on the three services, a vertical distribution, i.e. the number of women on different career posts, and a functional distribution, i.e. the type of work female soldiers are doing. The article finally comments on all integration perspectives to explain the present rather modest integration of women in the Danish Armed Forces.




1. The Political Integration


In principle, Danish women have had access to the Danish Armed Forces for the last forty years according to the Personnel Law of the Danish Armed Forces´ organization of 1962. But in practice, admittance did not became a reality until June 18, 1969 by the Law on Military Personnel, when women once again were told: “Both men and women can be enlisted, …” This political intention got implemented in November the same year, when the first few women were accepted for training.




Then, two decades later in 1988, women were given access to all military occupations on equal terms with men. But women seem still excluded from the most warrior like type of the soldier jobs such as fighter pilots, submarine commander, etc. The official explanation is that the female applicants have not been qualified. On top of that, the Danish surgeon general made some medical reservations against female pilots at all,[1] but the military organization did not see the contradiction between its demand for equal qualifications for women and men and the medical excuse for not using women as fighter pilots.  




In January 1998, the politically decided integration reduced the equal recruitment physical standards for men and women as women have around 30 % less muscle capacity than men, however, only for the female officer cadets but maintained them for female conscripts up till August 2001. To day, the recruitment standards are reduced for all types of female soldiers: Officer cadets, regulars, and female conscripts.[2]




2. The Organizational Integration


The politically decided integration of women in the Danish military is reflected in the ”upgrading” of this issue by the Danish Armed Forces. Several indicators show this organizational integration. First, in the official personnel policy paper of 1995 “women” have officially been defined and described in a specific section of this annual paper and this has been the case ever since. [3] Second, the Danish JCS, General Christian Hvidt, has nominated “women” as his “focus area” to signal the importance of that subject. [4] Third, since April 1998, an equal rights consultant has been appointed for the Danish Armed Forces to focus on the position and treatment of women in the Danish military. Fourth, in 2001 a Think Tank was established to improve the recruitment and maintain the presence of women at all levels of the Danish armed forces.[5] Fifth, JCS has expressed as the overall personnel policy of the Danish armed forces: “The armed forces want to recruit and keep more military women at all levels”[6]




This intention is expected to express itself in the Danish statistics and even more so as the number of women in uniform in NATO has risen from 30.000 in 1961 to 288.000 in 2001.[7] But before looking at the figures, four elements of the organizational integration of women shall be introduced.




First, the military integration, i.e. how many women in total do serve in the Armed Forces compared to how many of them serve as soldiers in the military forces. Thus, the difference between armed and military forces is civilians. Second, the horizontal integration, i.e. in which of the three branches: Army, Navy, and Air Force, do the Danish female soldiers serve, in particular. Third, the vertical distribution, i.e. what are the present career positions of women in the armed and in the military forces. Fourth, the functional integration, i.e. what type of work are the Danish female soldiers doing.




2.1 The Military Integration


The size of the Danish Armed Forces has been reduced since the end of the Cold War period, as it is the case for most Western countries. This development is illustrated in table 1 below.




Table 1. Military Integration of Women in the Danish Armed and Military Forces.* 1991 - 2001[8]






  Armed Forces            Military Forces

total       Women      %       Total     Women       %

                         AUgust    2001

Armed Forces            Military Forces

   total      Women     %       Total       Women      %



  5.228      196      3


  4.234        89      2

    542         6       1

    345          3[9]      1

MJ       – CN

  4.741     351       7

 3.556        98       3


  6.450      460      7

  5.566      158      3

  5.057     953     19

 4.447       191      4


16.692   3.717    22

  9.728      820      8

10.186    2.945   22

 6.932       571      8


28.370   4.373    15

19.528   1.067      6

20.526    4.255   21

15.409      862      6


*) Conscripts, cadets, physicians/dentists, and musicians are excluded.




Table 1 shows a reduction in the number of all Armed Forces personnel from 28.370 in 1991 to 20.526 in 2001 or by 31 % and a somewhat identical decrease of military personnel from 19.528 in 1991 to 15.409 in 2001 or by 21 %. So, the Danish armed forces have become leaner and meaner. However, this “militarization” is based on an uneven development of relatively more male and fewer female soldiers as the total number of women employed in the armed forces has remained stable around 4.300, whereas the number of female soldiers in the military forces has dropped from 1.067 in 1991 to 862 in 2001 or by 19 %. This development is reflected in an increased proportion of women in the armed forces from 15 % in 1991 to 21 % in 2001 and an unchanged proportion of female soldiers of 6 % both in 1991[10] and in 2001. So even if women fill out one of five posts throughout the Danish armed forces only 6 % of them serve in uniform in the military forces. But on the bottom line, during the last decade, Denmark has – contrary to its official policy and the female expansion in most NATO-countries - reduced her number of female soldiers.




2.2 The Horizontal Integration


This element describes the distribution of female soldiers throughout the three services. It is shown in table 2 below which, moreover, illustrates the development over time and on rank.








Table 2. Service Integration of Danish Female Military Personnel. 1974 – 2001[11]




A  =Army

N  =Navy

AF=Air Force

     oCT  1974


 A     N    aF    Total

      April 1977


   A     N    aF   Total

     March 1981


A       N    aF   Total

    Aug  1994


  A       N     aF  Total

      Aug 2001


   A     N     aF   Total


(Chef, leder)

  0     0       0         0 

   4      0       0          4

 12      1      3        16

 39       5      39      83

  48    11     37      94

NCO, Sergeants


12     0       1        13

 28      5       7        40

 45      5    12        62

 35      40     81   156

  62    33     88    183


(Manuelt ansatte)

94    25    94      213

276   30   118     424

403   28   171     602

301   176   245   722

369   146   189   704



106  25    95      216

308   35   186     468

460   34   186     680

375   221   365   961

479   189   313   981*


*) Including 119 female soldiers occupied in the National Home Guard




Table 2 shows an increasing number of women over time from 216 in 1974 to 981 in 2001 and more female officers from 16 in 1981 to 94 in 2001. With respect to the present horizontal integration, the Air Force has recruited relatively more women and promoted more women on officer posts (13 %) than the Army (10 %) and the Navy (6 %). So, if a Danish woman goes for a military career she had better join the Air Force. If, instead, she wants to meet other female soldiers she had better go to the Army and, finally, if she wants to serve solely with men she had better go to the Navy.




This actual horizontal integration in Denmark is no over-all given pattern. France, for instance, has integrated relatively more women in the navy than the other two services.




2.3 The Vertical Integration


The vertical integration in the Danish Armed and Military Forces consists of four different ranking categories already introduced in table 1 and 2 above:


  • “Chef”:                   LtCOL and upwards

  • “Leder”:                  Major-Captain

  • “Mellemleder”:       Sergeants

  • “Manuelt ansatte”:  Regulars, Constables


    The actual rank distribution of men and women in the Danish Armed and the Military Forces is presented in table 3 below.




Table 3. Rank Distribution of Danish women in the Armed and the Military Forces. 2001. %[12]






                      Armed Forces                              Military Forces                        Total                      %                         Total                     %

   Men     Women    Men    Women        Men    Women    Men    Women


    536          6           3            0

     342         3[13]           2           3

MJ        CN

  4.390      351         27           8

  3.458        98           24         11


  4.104      953         25         22

  4.256       191          30          22


  7.241    2.945        45         69

  6.361       571          44          66


16.271    4.255       100        99  

14.417      863         100        100


Table 3 shows an almost identical picture for men no matter if they serve in the Armed or in the Military Forces and the same is the case for women. There is however a different pattern when comparing men and women. Relatively fewer men are placed at the lowest rank of regulars and constables, actually only 45 % in the Armed Forces and 44 % in the Military Forces, while the same figures for women are respectively 66 % and 69 %. So, two thirds of all women in the Armed Forces are placed in the lowest rank of the military hierarchy, while it is below half of all men. But relatively more female soldiers, i.e. 3 %, have become top officers, i.e. LtCOL and above, in the Military Forces while the same figure is 2 % for the male soldiers. However, the highest career post for any Danish woman in the Military Forces is the rank of LtCOL, while woman in for instance the USA, Canada or France have reached the rank of COL and even of General/Admiral.




But there is no doubt that over time more Danish women have got access to higher military echelons. As seen from table 1 above, 89 female soldiers served as MJ - CN in 1991, it has grown to 101 in 2000 or by 13 %. And in 1987, nine out of ten women served as constables or regulars in 2001 it is only two out of three. Finally, table 3 indicates that it is easier for military women to make a career as an officer, cf. 14 %, than for their gender colleagues in the civilian component of the armed forces, only 8 %.    




2.4 The Functional Integration


Unfortunately, the Danish Armed Forces have not been able to present figures for the functional integration of women (and of men for that matter) due to computer problems, but it is argued that “Women are in particular occupied in administrative functions and staffs…”[14] 




So even if no new and specific figures are available, table 4 below presents the extended role of military women over time from two minor surveys.




Table 4. Functional Distribution of Danish Female Regulars. 1977 - 1994[15]





Passive/Non Combat

Service Support

Combat Support

 Combat at


Direct Ground










       Air Force
































6 medical



59 clerks

 3 drivers

 3 supply ass

44 Signal operators

4 listeners, 2 guards


3 ABC-


3 tank drivers

1 gunner

2 cadets




















Table 4 shows how the 1977 functions of Danish military women were confined to the three less combat oriented functions: From passive/non combat via service support to combat support. To day, Danish military women serve in direct ground combat units and are – as said - even accepted to become fighter pilots, even if no one has made it up till now.








3. Discussion


This presentation shows that with respect to political integration women are to day positively discriminated to men, equally positioned with respect to functional integration, but negatively discriminated with respect to military, horizontal and vertical integration. In other words, there is a political and organizational integration will to improve the number, promotion, and function of women, but in practice, results are not impressive. 




There seems to be a contradiction between the positive statements and the modest data. It raises the question: How come and what is the role of the five integration factors ?




3.1 The Political Integration


The political integration positively discriminated in favor of the female sex in the recruitment phase. So, women meet lower physical standards than men, i.e. basic physical standards. But female soldiers meet the same standards as men when applying for a job, i.e. functional-related standards. So, one explanation for the modest presence of female soldiers in the Military Forces and in “warrior jobs” is that the functional-related standards may be used to keep women out and down of military jobs even if they are favored in recruitment by lower basic physical standards. 




3.2 The Military Integration


The military integration of women showed for 2001 a proportion of 21 % women in the Armed Forces to men but only 6 % in the Military Forces. In the USA, the last figure is over 14 % and in Canada over 11 %. In North America, positive political discrimination has existed for a long time while in Denmark, it is newly introduced. This time lag could explain the low rate of female to male soldiers in this country. On the other hand, in future one may expect increased female presence in the Danish Military Forces. Actually, some data support this assumption. In 1995 every third female applicant did not pass the equal tests prior to recruitment.[16] For that reason alone, more women are to be expected in the armed forces in years to come.




    1. The Horizontal Integration

      The low number of female soldiers in the navy in particular, cf. table 2, is explained by this service by the lack of interest among women for “technical specialties.”[17] But as mentioned above, the French navy has the highest proportion of female soldiers of its three services. It raises the question: ”Are French women more technically oriented than Danish women who, moreover, have more industrial experience?” 


      A better explanation than a technical inability of Danish women is that all three services lack a female personnel policy and none of them get sanctioned if they avoid recruiting and deploying women. Of course, each of the three services has a different job structure and it may to some extent explain the different female soldier rate. But still, “administration” is a major occupation in all three services to be filled out by many more women than is the case now. So, the low and different female presence in the three services indicates more an organizational preference than lack of technically interested Danish women or lack of relevant jobs for them in which to serve.






    2. The Vertical Integration

      There is no doubt that the career profile of military women in Denmark is more modest than that of men, cf. table 3 where less than fifty per cent of all male soldiers are serving in the lowest rank of regulars, while two thirds of all female soldiers do so. And even if the proportion of top officers is almost identical for both men and women in Denmark, i.e. 2 % for the male soldiers and 3 % for the female soldiers, only three Danish women have reached the level of LtCOL, while in the USA, four women have reached the rank of three star general.


      The official attitude toward the career pattern of women in uniform is interesting. On the one hand, it is argued: “There seems to be equal promotional positions between male and female personnel,”[18] which – if so – has not resulted in more balance promotion profile. On the other, it is indirectly admitted that equal promotion is not fully the case and that women are left behind. But, again - as found for the military integration - the argument goes that women themselves are to blame.[19]


      What seems to be overlooked are not only the inconsistency of the two arguments but also that the Danish Armed Forces are to be blamed and not the women because the military leadership are told by politicians to improve female presence and it is obliged to do so, but it has failed. Therefore, a possible explanation is either incompetence or indifference of the Danish Armed Forces.


      3.5 The Functional Integration

      The data here are somewhat scarce, but table 4 indicates that over time women have got access to more combat oriented jobs parallel to a shift in attitudes toward women approaching the battlefield. In 1974 it was stated: ”…enlisted women are not employed in actual combat units…”[20] even if they “…have the status as combatants, i.e. they are equipped with and trained in the use of personal weapons and the weapons which are found necessary in their units for carrying out their military task.”[21] To day, the JCS remarks:“The armed forces want to recruit and keep more military women at all levels.”[22]


      This statement, however, is no evaluation of how female soldiers do actually perform. On the one hand, the enlisted men say: “The general lower physique of women is no problem.”[23] On the other, the sergeant-group finds that women “are less good at the more physically demanding functions”[24] and the officer group argues that this problem makes women “less fitted soldiers than the men.”[25] Two reservations can be made to the latter statement. First, the physical shortcomings of women are no problem at the lower enlistment level where muscles do count, but are perceived so at the higher levels. Second, the real problem is that “the normal procedure of assigning persons according to their abilities, for instance, you do not give a heavy machine gun to a little guy, is not applied here.”[26]












      4. Conclusion

      No matter the causes for the modest integration of Danish women in the armed forces, it is obvious that political positive discrimination and functional equal treatment do not overcome the barriers found in the military, horizontal, and vertical integration. This is supported by the fact that in the USA, women cannot serve in direct ground combat but they are, nevertheless, integrated more strongly than their fellow sisters in Denmark. So, these barriers will have to explain the shortage of female soldiers in Denmark compared to the political and the formal organizational integration statements. In other words, political and organizational efforts do not create more female soldiers and more female soldiers fighter pilots and generals.


      So, instead of arguing for more women in the armed forces for their sake, it may be much more constructive to argue for the sake of the military organization.

      Henning Sørensen


4. Endnotes


[1] General physician of the Danish armed forces: ”Kvinder og F-16 jagere er umage par” in FOV nyhedsbrev   nr. 23 of June 10, 1993, p 4:”Women and F-16 fighter air planes are not made for each other…We know that women have 30 % less muscle capacity than men…Therefore I have some concern if the exception to the equal Right Law is lifted..” 

[2]Compare FOV nyhedsbrev nr. 8, February 19, 1998, p 2: ”Løbekrav til officersaspiranter sættes ned” with FOV nyhedsbrev nr. 9, February 26, 1998, p 2 f: ”Ny lov om kvinder i trøjen”  

[3]Forsvarskommandoen, Personelstaben, ”Nye fysiske krav for optagelsesprøve ved Forsvarets Værnepligt og rekruttering,  August 28, 2001, nr. 9601139-060, 3 p.

[4] Forsvarschefens mærkesager for 2001, June 2001, 5 p.

[5] Forsvarschefens mærkesager, 2001, op.cit., p 1

[6] Forsvarschefens mærkesager, 2001, op.cit., p 1

[7]Nielsen, Vicki, ”Kvinder i uniform,” NATO-nyt, Summer 2001, 30 f., p 31

[8] 1991-figures: FOV nyhedsbrev nr. 10, March 7, 1991, p 2; 2001-figures: Forsvarskommandoens ligestillingsredegørelse 2001, 8 pp, here p 6. All figures are calculated to exclude cadets, conscripts, and physicians/dentists.

[9]By 15 September 2001, all three services will have a female LtCol.

[10] FOV nyhedsbrev nr. 10, March 7, 1991, op.cit. p 2 

[11] 1974-figures: Bræmer, Jørgen, Enlisted Women in the Danish Armed Forces, Copenhagen 1976, paper, 19 pp, p 5;

1977-figures: Bræmer, Jørgen, An Introduction to Enlisted Women in the Danish Armed Forces. Paper presented at the 13th International Symposium of Applied Military Psychology in Lahr, Germany 25-29 April 1977, 4 pp, p 2. This paper is a short version of Bræmer, 1976, op. cit. 

1994-figures: Rapport om mulighed, op. cit., p 29 

The difference in numbers for the same year is a matter of time of counting (January or August) or of definition: persons (incl. or excl. of cadets), persons a year, or persons in a position

2001-figures: Forsvarschefens ligestillingsredegørelse 2001, op.cit. p 6

[12] 1987-figures: Keld Jensen, Den militære beskæftigelse i Danmark. Indledende undersøgelse, Roskilde: Roskilde Universitetscenter, 1991, Arbejdspapir nr. 111, 69 p, calculated from table 13 p 43

2001-figures: Forsvarskommandoens ligestillingsredegørelse, op.cit., p 6

[13]By 15 September 2001, all three services will have a female LtCol.

[14] Rapport 1995, op.cit., p 28:”Kvinderne gør sig særligt gældende i de administrative funktioner og stabsenheder…”     

[15] 1977-data: Bræmer, 1977, op.cit.

1994-data: Rapport om muligheden for antagelse af kvinder på værnepligtslignende vilkår, København December 1995, 83 p + Encl. The figures are for the whole year of 1994 and calculated on the basis of information in chapter 3 ”Anvendelse af kvinder i det militære forsvar,” p 15 – 22, here encl. 4 p 15: 295 regulars serving in the Army were asked, 144 responded

[16] Rapport 1995, op.cit., encl. 1, ”Forsvarskommandoens brev af 15.11.1995 PS.420.0/PSU2-09514, p 2: ”..det kan konstateres at op mod en tredjedel ikke kan honorere de fysiske krav, der stilles til dem ved antagelsesprøven”

[17] Rapport 1995, op.cit., encl. 1, ”Forsvarskommandoens brev…” p 3: ”Inden for de tekniske specialer er antallet af kvinder meget lavt, og årsagen må tilskrives ringe interesse for disse uddannelser blandt kvinder.”

[18] Rapport 1995, op.cit., p 28:”Der synes at herske karrieremæssig ligestilling mellem mandligt og kvindeligt personel.”

[19] Rapport 1995, op.cit., encl. 2 ”Telegrafregimentets brev” of April 21, 1995 A.41.3-1768, p2: ”Når kvindeligt personel måske ikke i lige så stor udstrækning gør karriere, kan det konstateres, at personellet mangler personlige ambitioner/mål”   

[20]Bræmer, 1976, op.cit., p 4.

[21]Ibid., p 4

[22] Forsvarschefens mærkesager, 2001, op.cit., p 1

[23] Rapport 1995, op.cit., p 32:”Den generelt svagere fysik hos kvinderne vurderes ikke generelt at være et problem….”

[24]Ibid., p 33

[25] Ibid., p 33: ”Bortset fra den generelt svagere fysik klarer kvinderne uddannelsen med  samme spredning som mændene og vil med det forbehold være lige så egnede soldater som mændene.”

[26] Henning Sørensen, ”Denmark: The  Small NATO Nation,” in Nancy Goldman (ed.), Female Soldiers – Combatants or Noncombatants, (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1982),p 189 – 201, here p 197