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In a move likely to make the close-cropped members of the US Marine Corps shudder, the Norwegian army has announced that long-haired male recruits will no longer have to trim their locks or cram them in a hairnet to serve in the forces. As part of the push to make the army as gender neutral as possible, men will now be able to tease flowing hair into ponytails or even braids.

The announcement follows a vote by parliament in June which decreed that women as well as men must be eligible for conscription, making Norway the only country in Nato and Europe to introduce mandatory military service for both genders. Given that women are allowed to sport their long hair in ponytails and braids, men in Norway’s now gender-neutral army objected that current regulations only allowed them to keep their hair long if they scraped it into a hairnet.

The newspaper Dagbladet quoted Vegard Utne, from the defence department’s culture and tradition unit, as saying they hoped it would encourage a better atmosphere. “I do not think it was hair that stopped people from wanting to enter the military before, but I can well understand why someone would want to keep the ponytail when they are here,” he said.

Norway prides itself on its equal treatment of men and women, with quotas for women on the board of public companies and women making up half the current government. While women already serve in the military, they now only make up 10 per cent of the armed forces. The June law change is expected to increase their numbers.

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