Updated: 26-Mar-2002 Committee on Women in NATO Forces

Special Edition




Women have served in the Canadian Military since 1885, when nurses first served during the Northwest Rebellion. During the First and Second World Wars, women served in an increasingly greater variety of roles outside of the traditional areas of nursing and administration. Unfortunately, this trend ended after the Second World War and employment opportunities were curtailed until only 80 women (nurses) remained from the 50,000 WWII peak. The Korean conflict saw a resurgence and recognition of the abilities of women but numbers and employment varied. Women joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1951, the Royal Canadian Army in 1954, and the Royal Canadian Navy in 1955.

A policy review resulting from the 1970 Royal Commission Report on the Status of Women abolished the 1500 personnel ceiling, expanded the career opportunities open to women in the military and revised policies on marriage, pregnancy and retirement benefits. By 1974, 66% of Canadian Forces (CF) trades and occupations were open to women, but they were still excluded from combat and near-combat positions. Following the proclamation of the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1979, trials were carried out to determine the suitability of women operating in near-combat roles. By 1985, 75% of the trades were open, women started entering the Military Colleges (1980), and trials for their employment in combat roles began.

Before the completion of these trials, a 1989 Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision directed that all restrictions barring women from employment in the CF be removed, the sole exception being service in submarines. Work on completing the intent of the tribunal continues as a component of employment equity and its underlying concept: that no one should be denied employment if they are capable of the work.


Under the direction of the Chief of the Defence Staff, the all-volunteer CF is responsible for Canada's military operations on land, sea and in the air. The CF is organised into two primary groups: Regular and Reserve Forces. Each group includes officers and non-commissioned members.

General Policies

Following the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling in 1989, Canada's policy remains fixed on the full integration of women in the military and removing the remaining barriers on their employment. The CF has a harassment policy that provides for a work environment "supportive of the productivity, personal goals, dignity and self-esteem of all personnel." Additional policies on sexual misconduct, racist conduct and personal relationships compliment the harassment policy.

Maternity/Parental Leave: Women can take up to 119 days paid leave, with an additional 70 days available as parental leave upon application (available to the military spouse also). This now includes adoptive parents.


On 8 March 2001, Canada removed the restriction on women serving in submarines. Women may now serve in all functions and environments including those in combat arms. In a study conducted by the National Defence Headquarters, it was revealed that the number of women at the senior officer ranks has increased since 1989, but the number of women in junior officer ranks has decreased. This is a result of limited recruiting during the early to mid-1990s. The number of men in the officer ranks also decreased during this same period due to downsizing efforts of the CF. Similar results can be found in the rank structure of the NCOs. Over the last ten years, some progress was noted in the proportion of women who were in the senior ranks of Major and above. There are currently two women in the General Officer ranks.

Service Statistics

Today, women in the CF comprise 11.4% (6,558 of 57,441) of the Regular Force and 18.6% (5,787 of 31,479) of the Reserve Force. Of all the gender integration efforts in the CF, the least successful has been the integration of women into the combat arms (infantry, artillery, field engineer and armour) where representation remains low at 1.9%. Eligibility requirements are the same for women and men depending on their entrance category/speciality.


To increase the potential for success, the CF has improved the training of recruiters to better allow them to evaluate the potential of possible recruits. Recruiting material has been developed which specifically targets women. The CF participated in the creation of the "Women in the New Millennium - Career Options" television series which showcases women working in non-traditional occupations. This series has been used extensively in schools and has been shown on national television networks. A second series is currently in production and a third is under development.

To decrease recruit attrition due to physical difficulties, the CF has instituted mandatory physical testing prior to enrolment. They also provide preparatory information on how to prepare for the rigors of recruit training.

The Army has completed the "Leadership in a Diverse Army" program. This program was geared toward preparing combat units for the new female recruits. A handbook entitled; "Leadership in a Mixed Gender Environment" was created and distributed. The publication dispels myths associated with mixed gender employment and emphasises, through practical examples, that leadership is the most effective tool to build teamwork in any unit. The high attrition rates at the combat schools are under study to determine causes and to develop solutions.

Since 1989, the Navy has increased the number of mixed gender ships.

In 2000, the label "mixed gender" was removed, and all units are now considered mixed. The Navy continues to progress through "Vision 2010 - The Integrated Navy" plan which envisions the naval structure, and outlines barriers, requirements and policies to be addressed by 2010. Like the Army, the Navy is studying personnel retention, particularly concerning women, to determine the reasons for the high attrition rate and to discern changes that can be implemented to reduce this rate.

"Partnerships for the Future" is a program, which specifically targets the identification and elimination of barriers to women serving in Air Force occupations. Additionally, the Air Force's "Flight Plan for Life" program addresses many personnel issues and although it does not specifically target the employment of women, it does deal with issues affecting women, such as flexible work hours and work-family conflicts.


Women entered military colleges in 1980. Recruit training is fully co-educational in mixed training platoons. Canada developed predictor tasks as proxy measures for performance of standard military tasks. This method is an age and gender fair test. The study of the validity of this CF physical fitness test (CF Express) has been completed. While the results confirm that the test is a valid indicator of physical fitness, there will be changes made to incorporate lessons learned since the introduction of the test in 1991. The lack of understanding of the CF Express has created difficulties, especially with the perception of bias in favour of women.

Modules on diversity and gender issues are part of the training curriculum, and is reinforced in follow-on leadership training as the member progresses in the military.


Women have deployed in support of IFOR/SFOR missions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and other PKOs. A total of 2,910 women have served in PKOs since 1986. Women served in the Gulf on the HMCS Protecteur, a replenishment ship, and on land in clerical, medical, communications, and military police posts, as well as aircraft maintenance and fighter squadrons.

Recent and Projected Developments

To meet readiness requirements and accomplish certain tasks, equipment and personal uniform items had to be modified. The Army's "Clothe the Soldier" program has resulted in the first issue of a layered clothing system to accommodate the wide range of climates under which Canadian soldiers must function. New measurement and sizing methodology has resulted in a wider range of sizes and better fit for women as well as men.

The results of the survey on harassment in the CF were published in December 1999. Overall, the study found a decrease in the incidence of all types of harassment and a substantial increase in the level of knowledge of what constitutes harassment. While these are positive indications, the CF has instituted a new policy on harassment. This major change in harassment policy strives to deal with complaints quickly and at the lowest possible level. The policy is accompanied by extensive guidelines, procedure manuals, specialised training for harassment investigators and advisors, statistical information gathering, external victim services, a streamlined investigative service with powers to lay charges, and embedded harassment training for all ranks.

At present, a number of policies are being reviewed for improvement. For example, the CF is re-examining pregnancy policies in the field and aboard ships (i.e. employment limitations) and enhancement of maternity and parental benefits. Furthermore, the Services are conducting innovative studies on the high attrition rates of women and validation studies on physical standards comprising gender and age free measurement criteria to predict performance. A new physical training program, tailored to meet the needs of women, has been developed and is currently under review. Over the years, an understanding of the benefits of physical training for pre and post natal mothers had grown and a voluntary programme is under construction to assist expectant mothers to maintain physical tone during the pregnancy and regain physical condition prior to their return to work.


The Canadian military's commitment to gender integration is clearly reflected in the words of the Chief of Defence Staff: "…he who does not understand or fully support the right of women to serve equally with men in today's Army has no place in the Army's chain of command." Although the original Canadian Human Rights Tribunal Order requiring the CF to fully integrate ended in February 1999, the process is not yet complete. There is a continued commitment by the senior leadership of the CF to ensure no one who is qualified and willing to serve be turned away or that CF members are refused advancement based on who they are.

National Co-ordination Office

National Defence Headquarters
Directorate Personnel Policy
Major General George R. Pearkes Building
Ottawa, Canada K1A 0K2
Email: aa324@issc.debbs.ndhq.dnd.ca
Tel: 613-996-7586
Fax: 613-995-7871

National Delegate to the Committee on Women in the NATO Forces

Lieutenant Colonel Lieutenant Colonel Karen Ritchie
Same mailing address as above
Tel: +1-613-992-6033
Fax: +1-613-996-2343
E-mail : ritchiekr@forces.ca

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