While dozens of countries have laws allowing men to be conscripted for military service, only around 20 do the same for women.
People in other countries could also be at risk of conscription, as governments often change these laws in a time of crisis, though it’s hard to gauge how much.
For example, mandatory military service in the UK was only introduced duing the world wars of the 20th century, and peacetime ‘national service’ for young men ended in 1960.
Britain’s former top Nato commander has said the country needs to ‘think the unthinkable’ and consider conscription in the event of war with Russia, which he says the British armed forces wouldn’t have enough troops for.
Since there are no laws setting out how this would work in the 21st century, women in the UK are technically just as likely as men to be drafted in the future – though the government insists conscription of any kind is off the table.
But a number of countries which still require young people to do a stint of national service include both men and women.
The most extreme version of this is in North Korea, where all girls must enlist at the age of 17 and stay in the armed forces for 5 years, while men stay on for 10.
The only two countries where the terms are technically the same for men and women are Norway and Sweden, although they aren’t particularly strict.
In Norway, everyone is called up for 19 months’ service between the ages of 19 and 35, but more than 80% are released from service and only those who are motivated end up being selected.
Most of the countries which conscript women are not currently involved in active conflicts.
Two are in Europe, two in Asia, one in the Middle East, one in South America and 14 in Africa.
The only country where significant numbers of women can be called up to fight today is Israel, where young adults in national service may be sent to fight Hamas alongside regular troops.
Israel requires 18-year-olds to serve for up to 2 years and around 40% of those drafted are women.
However women only began to appear regularly in combat or frontline roles in the context of the current war in Gaza, and most of these are thought to be regular professional soldiers.
In some countries, women have reported suffering sexual violence and other forms of abuse due to being conscripted.
For example, in Eritrea, where men and women must serve for 18 months before the age of 40, human rights watchdogs say female conscripts have been subjected to cruel punishments if they refused sex to their superiors.
They include being locked in cells, beaten, deprived of food and being sent to the front line while the country was at war with Ethiopia.
Here is the full list of countries which have some form of mandatory national service for women:
- North Korea
- South Sudan
- Equatorial Guinea
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