With a focus on the biggest armies in the world, here’s a look at how women in the army fare.


Two-thirds of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is made up of its ground force, the equivalent of other militaries’ army. According to the US Congressional Research Service, this amounts to 1.6 million, making China’s the largest army in the world.

The National Council for the Social Studies reported in 1994 that women make up 4.5% of the PLA. This was confirmed by China Military Online, which gave a 2015 estimate of “approximately 5% or less”, suggesting just 53,000 women serve in China’s Army.


India’s Army totals 1.2 million active personnel, according to The Economic Times. Women make up 3% of the army, or 36,000, says New Delhi Television. However, women only serve in non-combat, support roles, such as medical and logistical positions.

According to the Hindustan Times, women began joining the Indian Army through the Indian Military Nursing Service, formed during the British Raj in 1888. From 1914 to 1945, Indian Army nurses served in the First World War and Second World War, where 350 nurses died, taken prisoner or declared missing in action.

Women were first taken into the army in non-medical roles in 1992, according to the Indian Government’s army recruitment service. The first all-female peacekeeping force for the United Nations was made up of 105 Indian women, deployed to Liberia in 2007.

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North Korea

North Korea’s North Korean People’s Ground Force has 950,000 active army personnel, says Forces Network. North Korea has universal conscription for men and selective conscription for women. Women serve for a maximum of six years and men for ten, so women could make up around 40% of the army, amounting to an estimated 380,000.


The Pakistan Army has 560,000 troops, says the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). This is out of a total active military of 653,800 personnel.

The Express Tribune reported 4,000 women in Pakistan’s armed forces in 2013. Recruits were reportedly mostly consigned to medical work and desk jobs, as women are banned from ground combat in the country. By extrapolation, there are around 3,400 women serving in the Pakistani Army.

South Korea

According to United Press International (UPI), 6,915 women serve in the Republic of Korea Army, which The National Interest says has a total of 560,000 troops. According to UPI, the government plans to increase the proportion of women serving in senior positions to 7% by 2020. Currently, they make up 5.5% of senior military ranks.

United States

The US has an active duty army of 476,000, according to GlobalSecurity.org. CNN put the number of women serving at 74,000, which equates to around 16%.

Women have served in the US Army since the American Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1783, including serving as spies. Task and Purpose also said that 400,000 women served in non-combat roles during the Second World War, with hundreds serving as field intelligence agents. Of these, 88 were taken as prisoners and 16 killed in action. Approximately 11,000 women were deployed to Vietnam from 1962 to 1972 and 41,000 sent to Iraq in 1991.

The American Civil Liberties Union overturned a ban against women serving on ships in the 1970s. In 2013, the union reported that the ban on women in ground combat had also been lifted. In 2016, all combat positions were made available to women. Fox News reported US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta as saying: “It’s clear to all of us that women are contributing in unprecedented ways to the military’s mission of defending the nation.”


According to IISS, women comprise 10% of the Russian Armed Forces. Known as the Ground Force of the Russian Federation, the army totals 350,000, says the Defense Intelligence Agency. This means that there could be around 35,000 women serving in the Russian Army.