Myanmar: Burmese army recruits female soldiers as it struggles to tackle rebel groups

If you’re a single female between the ages of 25 and 30, 1.6 metres (5ft 3in) or taller and weighing less than 59kg (130lbs), then the Tatmadaw – Burma’s military – may be looking for you.

Once limited to working only as nurses in the military, Burmese women are now being actively recruited by the country’s ministry of defence, according to an advert in the state-run Myanmar Ahlin newspaper, which stresses that successful candidates will be spared from serving on frontlines and instead be offered posts as second lieutenants.

A reviled entity now synonymous with human rights abuses and military coups, the Burmese army was once well respected for leading the country to independence from British colonial rule. Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, Aung San, was himself a general and is revered as the heroic “true father” of Burma.

Today the Burmese army is believed to be one of the largest in the region and manages a budget of $2.4bn, or 12% of total government spending – roughly four times what the country spends on health care, according to official figures.

Reformist president Thein Sein has made it an apparent priority to sign ceasefires with the country’s many rebel ethnic groups, but has struggled to make any headway in the Kachin ethnic area, where a 17-year ceasefire broke down in 2011 and where fierce fighting, including the military’s use of fighter jets, took place earlier this year.

This is the first time that women have been offered such posts with the Tatmadaw, but a military draft adopted in 2011 – when Burma officially moved to quasi-civilian leadership after nearly 50 years of military rule – allows for women between 18 and 27 to be drafted in times of national emergency.

Women have sometimes been press-ganged to work as porters, says Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch, who warns that, given the army’s abysmal rights record, the new recruits could find themselves sexually abused or harassed.

“Because there has been a culture of this army physically and sexually abusing women in the field as part of operations, where both rank and file soldiers have been involved in rape and other forms of sexual abuse against women – such as seizing women to porter goods and then raping them at night – then I would wonder … whether senior officers would view these women professionally or try to take advantage of them,” Robertson told the Guardian.

“I think a woman would have to be quite brave to be among the first batch of recruits.”