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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