Women In The Canadian Forces (CF)

Women have a long his­to­ry of mil­i­tary involve­ment. The Cana­di­an Forces is a world leader in terms of the pro­por­tion of women in its mil­i­tary, and the areas in which they can serve. Women can enrol in all occu­pa­tions of the Cana­di­an Forces, includ­ing com­bat arms, and serve in any envi­ron­ment. The Cana­di­an Forces takes pride in being a leader in the field of equal­i­ty and women’s rights and is active­ly recruit­ing women for dynam­ic, reward­ing posi­tions.

The CF is com­mit­ted to putting peo­ple first, which includes increas­ing diver­si­ty and pro­mot­ing inclu­sive­ness amongst its per­son­nel. The organization’s Employ­ment Equi­ty (EE) objec­tives are to work towards a CF reflec­tive of the Cana­di­an work­force, to encour­age equi­table par­tic­i­pa­tion of women, Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple and vis­i­ble minori­ties and to build a sup­port­ive envi­ron­ment while demon­strat­ing com­mit­ment and lead­er­ship in EE

It is indeed an excit­ing time for women, for now there is tru­ly no lim­it to career oppor­tu­ni­ties for them in the Cana­di­an Forces. 


Women have been involved in Canada’s mil­i­tary ser­vice for more than 100 years. The num­bers of women in uni­form have fluc­tu­at­ed over the years, with the largest num­ber serv­ing dur­ing the Sec­ond World War when many per­formed non-tra­di­tion­al duties. Fol­low­ing the large reduc­tion in per­son­nel after the Sec­ond World War, the Roy­al Cana­di­an Navy, the Cana­di­an Army, and the Roy­al Cana­di­an Air Force again allowed women to enroll in the ear­ly 1950s, though their employ­ment was restrict­ed to tra­di­tion­al roles in med­i­cine, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, logis­tics, and administration. 

The roles of women in the Cana­di­an Forces began to expand in 1971, after the Depart­ment reviewed the rec­om­men­da­tions of the Roy­al Com­mis­sion on the Sta­tus of Women. It lift­ed the ceil­ing of 1 500, and grad­u­al­ly expand­ed employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties into the non-tra­di­tion­al areas–vehicle dri­vers and mechan­ics, air­craft mechan­ics, air-traf­fic con­trollers, mil­i­tary police, and firefighters. 

The Depart­ment fur­ther reviewed per­son­nel poli­cies in 1978 and 1985, after Par­lia­ment passed the Cana­di­an Human Rights Act and the Cana­di­an Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms. As a result of these reviews, the Depart­ment changed its poli­cies to per­mit women to serve at sea in replen­ish­ment ships and in a div­ing ten­der, with the army ser­vice bat­tal­ions, in mil­i­tary police pla­toons and field ambu­lance units, and in most air squadrons. 

Ser­vice­women of the Navy, Army and Air Force endured much hard­ship while serv­ing Cana­da over the past cen­tu­ry. It was their deter­mi­na­tion, ded­i­ca­tion, and pro­fes­sion­al­ism that opened the door for so many women to join. These brave and coura­geous women were faced with many obsta­cles as they entered what was tra­di­tion­al­ly a man’s are­na. Not only did they have to do the job and excel at it, but first they had to prove that, giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty, they would not fail. It was a daunt­ing chal­lenge that women met with hope, courage and most impor­tant­ly, with suc­cess. Present­ly, women serve on a num­ber of glob­al oper­a­tions rang­ing across the spec­trum from peace­keep­ing and human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance oper­a­tions, through to sta­bil­i­ty and secu­ri­ty and peace-enforce­ment operations. 


In 1987, occu­pa­tions and units with the pri­ma­ry role of prepar­ing for direct involve­ment in com­bat on the ground or at sea were still closed to women: infantry, armoured corps, field artillery, air-defence artillery, sig­nals, field engi­neers, and naval oper­a­tions. On Feb­ru­ary 5, 1987, the Min­is­ter of Nation­al Defence cre­at­ed an office to study the impact of employ­ing men and women in com­bat units. These tri­als were called Com­bat-Relat­ed Employ­ment of Women (CREW).

All mil­i­tary occu­pa­tions were open to women in 1989, with the excep­tion of sub­ma­rine ser­vice that did not open until 2001. Through­out the 1990s, the intro­duc­tion of women in to the com­bat arms increased the poten­tial recruit­ing pool by about 100 per cent. It also pro­vid­ed oppor­tu­ni­ties for all per­sons to serve their coun­try to the best of their abilities. 

Today, all equip­ment must be suit­able for a mixed-gen­der force. Com­bat hel­mets, ruck­sacks, com­bat boots, and flak jack­ets are designed to ensure that women have the same lev­el of pro­tec­tion and com­fort as their male col­leagues. The women’s uni­form is sim­i­lar in design to the men’s uni­form but con­forms to the female fig­ure, and is func­tion­al and practical. 


As of July 2010, the per­cent­age of women in the CF com­bined Reg­u­lar Force and Pri­ma­ry Reserve was at 15 per cent, with more than 9 300 women in the Reg­u­lar Force and more than 6 000 women in the Pri­ma­ry Reserve. 

Women today com­prise approx­i­mate­ly 10 per cent of per­son­nel deployed on inter­na­tion­al oper­a­tions. Gen­der is not a fac­tor in selec­tion for inter­na­tion­al deployment. 

Women have an even stronger pres­ence in the Navy, com­pris­ing 19.2 per cent of its per­son­nel. Women today serve on sub­marines, an area that did not accom­mo­date women until 2001.There are cur­rent­ly four qual­i­fied female sub­mariners, includ­ing two cooks (a Cor­po­ral and a Mas­ter Sea­man), a Nav­i­ga­tion Com­mu­ni­ca­tions (NAVCOMM) Lead­ing Sea­man, and a Sound Nav­i­ga­tion and Rang­ing Oper­a­tor (SONAR OP) Lead­ing Sea­man. There is also a female trainee in the pipeline, work­ing as a SONAR OP

Sta­tis­tics show that with­in the three envi­ron­ments, the con­cen­tra­tion ratio of women is the high­est in the fol­low­ing areas: 


  • Resource Man­age­ment Sup­port Clerk
  • Naval Com­mu­ni­ca­tor
  • Boatswain
  • # Cook
  • Mar­itime Sur­face and Sub-Sur­face Officer


  • Resource Man­age­ment Sup­port Clerk
  • Sup­ply Technician
  • Med­ical Technician

Air Force

  • Resource Man­age­ment Sup­port Clerk
  • Sup­ply Technician
  • Logis­tics – Air
  • Avi­a­tion Sys­tems Technician
  • Traf­fic Technician


By ana­lyz­ing CF demo­graph­ics and process­es, the Depart­ment will be able to iden­ti­fy all bar­ri­ers to women’s careers in the mil­i­tary. Research is ongo­ing in such areas as sys­temic bar­ri­ers, release from the mil­i­tary, enrol­ment, offers of indef­i­nite peri­ods of ser­vice, per­for­mance-review-rat­ing com­par­isons, and award nominations. 


With diver­si­ty in the work­place becom­ing an increas­ing­ly impor­tant objec­tive, gen­der issues are receiv­ing height­ened vis­i­bil­i­ty. Ini­tia­tives are under­way which will lev­el the play­ing field for women in the CF by elim­i­nat­ing dis­crim­i­na­to­ry prac­tices and atti­tudes, rather than grant­i­ng spe­cial priv­i­leges and sta­tus. Some of these ini­tia­tives are: 

a) Recruit­ing and Reten­tion The Depart­ment intends to adopt an active recruit­ing cam­paign, that shows women in all CF roles. The aim is to attract more women to a career in the CF, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the com­bat arms. The CF is active­ly recruit­ing women for chal­leng­ing career oppor­tu­ni­ties fea­tur­ing excel­lent train­ing and reward­ing pay and ben­e­fits. To pro­mote diver­si­ty and inclu­sive­ness, the CF estab­lish­es rep­re­sen­ta­tion goals for women and mon­i­tors progress towards achiev­ing those goals. 

The Cana­di­an Forces Recruit­ing Group (CFRG) reg­u­lar­ly engages in out­reach activ­i­ties with women’s pro­fes­sion­al asso­ci­a­tions, edu­ca­tors, and stu­dents to increase their aware­ness of these career oppor­tu­ni­ties. CFRG also par­tic­i­pates in women’s career fairs and plans to host a con­fer­ence for women edu­ca­tors and pro­fes­sion­als in 2010. The CF uses spe­cial proac­tive mea­sures regard­ing recruit­ment, devel­op­ment, and reten­tion of women in order to build the diverse and inclu­sive CF of tomorrow. 

b) Defence Diver­si­ty Coun­cil (DDC) and Advi­so­ry Groups (AG)

The CF have a well-devel­oped gov­er­nance frame­work for diver­si­ty and Employ­ment Equi­ty (EE). Key to this frame­work is the DDC that is respon­si­ble for mak­ing rec­om­men­da­tions to the Deputy Min­is­ter and the Chief of the Defence Staff con­cern­ing diver­si­ty poli­cies and prac­tices in the CF

The CF also sup­port the oper­a­tion of Defence EE Advi­so­ry Groups for each of the four groups des­ig­nat­ed by the Employ­ment Equi­ty Act (EEA), includ­ing the Defence Women’s Advi­so­ry Orga­ni­za­tion (DWAO). The goal of the Defence AGs, both at the nation­al and local lev­el, is to con­sult with des­ig­nat­ed group mem­bers, pro­vide advice and insight to the lead­er­ship on issues rel­e­vant to their mem­ber­ship and imple­men­ta­tion of EE

Advi­so­ry Groups are looked upon to assist man­age­ment with the Employ­ment Equi­ty (EE) action plans, pro­vide direc­tion to resource out­lets, har­mo­nize rela­tions with the four iden­ti­fied des­ig­nat­ed group mem­bers, esca­late reten­tion rates, and pro­vide evo­lu­tion­al, viable teams, and pro­duc­tive work­ing envi­ron­men­tal sit­u­a­tions. These groups are man­dat­ed to dis­cuss evolv­ing EE poli­cies, encour­age new strate­gies regard­ing recruit­ment and reten­tion, and sup­port facil­i­ta­tion of pos­i­tive work environments. 

Each year, Cana­di­ans cel­e­brate Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Week in March, with the high­light on Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Day. Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Day marks a cel­e­bra­tion of the eco­nom­ic, social, cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal achieve­ments for women through­out the world. The first Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Day was held on March 19, 1911, in Ger­many, Aus­tria, Den­mark, and oth­er Euro­pean coun­tries. In 1977, the Unit­ed Nations estab­lished March 8th as Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Day. This spe­cial day pro­vides an oppor­tu­ni­ty to cel­e­brate the progress made to advance equal­i­ty for women and to con­sid­er steps to bring about equal­i­ty for women in all their diversity. 

In Cana­di­an mil­i­tary his­to­ry, we can look back more than 100 years and see just how much women have con­tributed to Cana­da. For more infor­ma­tion on Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Day, vis­it the Sta­tus of Women Cana­da Web site: http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca.

c) Liai­son with oth­er orga­ni­za­tions and nations

Cana­da is rep­re­sent­ed on the NATO Com­mit­tee on Gen­der Per­spec­tives (NCGP), for­mer­ly the Com­mit­tee of Women in the NATO Forces (CWINF). The NGCP is focussed on imple­men­ta­tion of UNSCR and relat­ed UN res­o­lu­tions. These res­o­lu­tions address issues such as: the inclu­sion of women and girls in the peace process; pro­tec­tion of women dur­ing and after con­flict; pre­ven­tion of sex­u­al vio­lence against women and chil­dren in con­flict; and pre-deploy­ment train­ing of mil­i­tary and civil­ian police per­son­nel on the pro­tec­tion, rights and par­tic­u­lar needs of women. 

Oth­er nations that are still wrestling with women-in-com­bat issues, includ­ing Aus­tralia, Chile, Ger­many, Peru, the Unit­ed King­dom, and the Unit­ed States, often call upon the Depart­ment as a resource on gen­der-inte­gra­tion issues. Cana­da is also a mem­ber of the Com­mit­tee on Women in NATO Forces and has con­tributed to NATO dis­cus­sions on gen­der main­stream­ing and « best prac­tices » for inte­gra­tion of gen­der-based con­sid­er­a­tions in NATO-led oper­a­tions, from a nation­al perspective. 

d) Diver­si­ty Train­ing and Education

All mem­bers of the CF must have a clear under­stand­ing of EE and diver­si­ty and how it can ben­e­fit the orga­ni­za­tion. All per­son­nel receive aware­ness train­ing and/or infor­ma­tion ses­sions through­out their career and have direct con­tact through their chain of com­mand to the lat­est infor­ma­tion on the sub­ject of EE and diver­si­ty. The Depart­ment is also con­duct­ing a needs analy­sis to deter­mine the best way for staff to deliv­er diver­si­ty train­ing to all CF members. 

Basic Diver­si­ty Train­ing is giv­en as part of basic train­ing for both offi­cers and non-com­mis­sioned mem­bers and more advanced train­ing is pro­vid­ed on advanced lead­er­ship qual­i­fi­ca­tion cours­es. The curriculum’s com­po­nents include ses­sions on CF per­son­al con­duct poli­cies such as harass­ment pre­ven­tion and res­o­lu­tion, per­son­al con­duct and rela­tion­ships, sex­u­al mis­con­duct, and sex­u­al harass­ment. All CF mem­bers learn that sex­u­al mis­con­duct and sex­u­al harass­ment are not tol­er­at­ed and that a CF mem­ber who engages in sex­u­al mis­con­duct is liable to dis­ci­pli­nary and admin­is­tra­tive action, includ­ing release from the military. 

Pri­or to deploy­ment to an oper­a­tional the­atre, CF per­son­al receive spe­cif­ic train­ing on the CF Code of Con­duct, human rights, ethics and indi­vid­ual con­duct, gen­der dif­fer­ences, and cul­ture. This train­ing includes instruc­tion on the pro­tec­tion of women and chil­dren and oth­er vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions dur­ing conflict. 

e) Fam­i­ly support

Fam­i­ly life affects a member’s per­for­mance. The CF has a moral oblig­a­tion to pro­vide sup­port to its mem­bers and their fam­i­lies, and to ease the dif­fi­cul­ties of jug­gling career and home. Issues such as child care, spousal employ­ment, lack of geo­graph­ic sta­bil­i­ty, preg­nan­cy leave, and sin­gle par­ent­hood are all fac­tors that con­tribute to the depar­ture of women from the CF

A recent­ly con­duct­ed study exam­ined the con­cerns CF mem­bers have about the demands of mil­i­tary ser­vice on fam­i­ly life. This study rec­om­mend­ed cre­at­ing or chang­ing per­son­nel poli­cies so CF mem­bers, both women and men, can achieve a bet­ter bal­ance between mil­i­tary ser­vice and fam­i­ly respon­si­bil­i­ties. The Depart­ment is cur­rent­ly review­ing these rec­om­men­da­tions, and is already imple­ment­ing some of them. For exam­ple, the CF man­ages com­pen­sa­tion and ben­e­fits in such a way as to encour­age men and women to share equi­tably in fam­i­ly respon­si­bil­i­ties and achieve a bet­ter bal­ance of the demands of mil­i­tary ser­vice and fam­i­ly life. 


The his­to­ry of Cana­di­an ser­vice women is an impor­tant part of our nation­al mil­i­tary her­itage and their achieve­ments con­tribute to the full and equal inclu­sion of women in our soci­ety and nation­al institutions. 

Mil­i­tary recruit­ing and reten­tion are top pri­or­i­ties for the CF and the Gov­ern­ment of Cana­da. The CF is com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing a wel­com­ing, fair and sup­port­ive work envi­ron­ment to all its mem­bers, while implant­i­ng new recruit­ment strate­gies. This includes devel­op­ing flex­i­ble employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties that will be more attrac­tive to women, allow­ing them to excel in ser­vice to Canada. 

To pro­mote diver­si­ty and inclu­sive­ness, the CF estab­lish­es rep­re­sen­ta­tion goals for women (25.1 per cent set as of June 2010) and mon­i­tors progress towards achiev­ing those goals. It is rec­og­nized that achiev­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion goals is a very long-term objec­tive. Demon­stra­tion of progress, in the form of EE Act com­pli­ance and improve­ment in rep­re­sen­ta­tion, becomes the imme­di­ate objective. 

Fam­i­ly life affects a member’s per­for­mance. The CF has a moral oblig­a­tion to pro­vide bet­ter sup­port to its mem­bers and their fam­i­lies, and to ease the dif­fi­cul­ties of jug­gling career and home by offer­ing com­pre­hen­sive pro­grams to help mem­bers and their fam­i­lies achieve a bal­ance between mil­i­tary ser­vice and fam­i­ly responsibilities. 

Be they male or female, regard­less of race, reli­gion, or cul­ture, CF mem­bers share a com­mon goal – pro­tect­ing the coun­try, its inter­ests, and val­ues while also con­tribut­ing to inter­na­tion­al peace and security. 

Depart­ment of Nation­al Defence, Canada 

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