Restrictions on the employment of women in Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have been lifted since 1989 to include combat related military occupations (Combat arms, Naval operations and Pilots.) Restrictions on employment of women in submarines were lifted in 2001.
By the end of 2017, there were 12 women at the general and flag officer ranks in the CAF, a record high with four in each service. The number of women in senior Non-Commissioned Member (NCM) ranks also rose to 57 Chief Warrant Officers and Chief Petty Officers, as did the number of women in Special Forces roles.
A summary of women’s representation rates for officers and NCMs in the Regular Force and Primary Reserve is as follows:
- Officer 16.50%
- NCM 12.80%
- Total 13.50%
- Officer 22.40%
- NCM 19.80%
- Total 20.60%
- Air Force
- Officer 21.00%
- NCM 19.2%
- Total 19.80%
Canadian women have fought alongside men in Afghanistan. Hundreds of women served as combat soldiers between 2000 and 2011, mostly in Afghanistan, with a total of more than 600 deployments of 60 days or more.
The Department of National Defence (DND) has not collected information specifically about Canadian women’s combat experience in Afghanistan, and has no definite plans to do so. DND stated that “Participation on operations is based on the physical and mental ability of soldiers. Those who can successfully complete the requisite work-up training can deploy on operations and this process does not include gender considerations.”
In the Canadian forces, every job is open to people who meet the standard of the job. The job standards that infantry soldiers meet are based on training followed by testing. Women earned the right to fight in Afghanistan alongside other Canadian soldiers by passing a series of tests, including some specific to the challenges they faced in that theatre.
Here is the case of US Marine Corps Captain Katie Petronio, an athlete in college, and a high scorer in Marines training which she graduated in 2007. Five years later, she wrote in the Marine Corps Gazette, “I am physically not the woman I once was and my views have greatly changed on the possibility of women having successful long careers while serving in the infantry. I can say from firsthand experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not just emotion, that we haven’t even begun to analyse and comprehend the gender-specific medical issues and overall physical toll continuous combat operations will have on females.”
After over two years in Iraq and Afghanistan she felt that the injuries due to carrying a full combat load, left her with muscle atrophy in her thighs that was causing her to constantly trip and her legs to buckle with the slightest grade change. Her agility during firefights and mobility on and off vehicles and perimeter walls was seriously hindering her response time and overall capability.
She compared that while everyone experienced stress and muscular deterioration, her rate was noticeably faster than that of male Marines and further compounded by gender-specific medical conditions. She categorically states in the article that women can hold their own in combat, but she is concerned about longevity.
Top Five Reasons Why CF Women Leave the Force
- Family Separation 27.4 %
- Return to School 25.4 %
- Stay at Home and Raise Family 19.9%
- More Challenging Work 18.4%
- Conflict with Spouse Career 18.4%
Three of the top five reasons above is linked to their family responsibilities. Almost 20% of women declared that they had left the CAF to stay home and raise a family, a reason that did not even make the top ten reasons offered by men who left CAF.
US military’s attrition data shows the following top three reasons for American women service members to leave the military:
- lack of clear roles and careers paths
- differential treatment they received
- difficulty in combining career and family.
The same may apply to all women soldiers across the globe as family responsibilities will take precedence.