Women in the Canadian Armed Forces

Backgrounder / March 7, 2019

March 7, 2019 – Ottawa – National Defence / Canadian Armed Forces

Women have been serving in Canada’s military for well over a century and today play a pivotal role in defending Canada’s safety and security. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) was one of the first military forces to open all military occupations to women, and today is setting ambitious goals to increase representation across all trades and ranks. Our objective is that by 2026, one in four CAF members will be women.

By the end of 2018, there were 13 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 1st Class, as did the number of women in Special Forces roles.

The CAF values diversity and recognizes the strength that women bring to our force by enhancing effectiveness on operations. Canada’s military continues to strive to better reflect Canadian society in our ranks as we promote Canadian values at home and abroad.

This backgrounder provides an update on statistical data on women’s representation in the CAF; and, an overview of current and planned recruitment and retention efforts.


The CAF’s representation of women has grown from 11.4 percent in 2001 to 15.7 percent as of January 2019. A summary of women’s representation rates for officers and NCMs in the Regular Force and the Primary Reserve is as follows:

Representation of women in the CAF (1 February 2019)  

Regular Force
Officer 16,957 3,265 19.3%
NCM 50,461 7,117 14.1%
Total 67,418 10,382 15.4%
Primary Reserve
Officer 5,184 874 16.9%
NCM 24,220 3,918 16.2%
Total 29,404 4,792 16.3%
Officer 22,141 4,792 18.7%
NCM 74,681 11,035 14.8%
Total 96,822 15,174 15.7%

Women’s representation in the combat arms (armour, artillery, infantry, combat engineer) have grown from less than one percent in 1989-90, when the combat arms were first opened to women, to 4.7 percent in February 2019.

Representation of women in CAF combat arms (February 2019) 


Regular Force
Armoured Soldier 1,874 1,817 97.0 57 3.0
Infantry Soldier 6,198 6,147 99.2 51 0.8
Armour Officer 544 519 95.4 25 4.6
Artillery Officer 630 579 91.9 51 8.1
Infantry Officer 1,456 1,408 96.7 48 3.3
Engineer (Officer) 600 560 93.3 40 6.7
Combat Engineer 2,077 2,010 96.8 67 3.2
Gunner 2,019 1,915 94.8 104 5.2
Regular Force Totals 15,398 14,955 97.1% 443 2.9%


Primary Reserve
Armoured Soldier - Reconnaissance 2,078 1,925 92.6 153 7.4
Infantry Soldier 7,853 7,402 94.3 451 5.7
Armour Officer - Reconnaissance 268 249 92.9 19 7.1
Armour Officer - Armoured 79 77 97.5 2 2.5
Artillery Officer 318 297 93.4 21 6.6
Infantry Officer 1,045 1,005 96.2 40 3.8
Engineer (Officer) 218 199 91.3 19 8.7
Combat Engineer 1,482 1,388 93.7 94 6.3
Gunner 1,596 1,396 87.5 200 12.5
Primary Reserve Totals 14,937 13,938 93.3% 999 6.7%


Regular Force + Primary Reserve
Armoured Soldier 3,952 3,742 94.7 210 5.3
Infantry Soldier 14,051 13,549 96.4 502 3.6
Armour Officer 891 845 94.8 46 5.2
Artillery Officer 948 876 92.4 72 7.6
Infantry Officer 2,501 2,413 96.5 88 3.5
Engineer (Officer) 818 759 92.8 59 7.2
Combat Engineer 3,559 3,398 95.5 161 4.5
Gunner 3,615 3,311 91.6 304 8.4
Regular Force + Primary Reserve Totals 30,335 28,893 95.2% 1442 4.8%


Recruitment and Retention of Women in the CAF

In order to achieve the goal of one in four members being women, the CAF is focussed on two key pillars: recruitment and retention.

The recruiting strategy for women focusses on raising awareness of military career opportunities. This is done through engagement and outreach, advertising, job postings, media partnerships, social media, and individual recruiter efforts. Successful recruiting efforts saw the percentage of women enrolling in the Regular Force increase from 13.2 percent in 2015-16 to 17.2 percent in 2017-18. The CAF also proactively engages with key leaders, women’s professional associations, educators, and other key influencers to showcase the diversity of employment opportunities. New initiatives like engagements with women professional associations have been instrumental in showing the women of Canada what life in the CAF might look like and increase the likelihood of them considering a military career.

In addition to focusing on increasing the number of women in the CAF generally, specific attention is being paid to increasing the number of women in Special Forces roles. To this end, members from the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) have been participating in various outreach and recruiting programs, and the percentage of women in these roles has reached 10.3 percent.

Opportunities Based on Merit

Military members are selected for training and promotions, postings, and all career opportunities based on merit, regardless of gender. In combat occupations, CAF members must meet the same requirements and competencies in the same circumstances. From the start of their careers, CAF members are sensitized to gender equality, including the meaning, rights, and responsibilities of gender equity. All new CAF members receive Basic Diversity Training during their basic training, and more advanced training is provided on advanced leadership qualification courses. Basic Diversity Training includes sessions on personal conduct policies such as harassment prevention and resolution, personal conduct and relationships, sexual misconduct, and sexual harassment.

Increased Diversity

The CAF recognizes, embraces and actively promotes diversity as a core CAF institutional value. Respect for diversity and inclusion is a respect for the unique talents, perspectives and cultures of our CAF members, which enables them to fully contribute to the execution of CAF missions at home and abroad. The 2016 CAF Diversity Strategy and 2017 Action Plan form the foundation and accountability framework for ensuring the respect and dignity of all persons within the CAF.

In 2015, the CAF launched Operation HONOUR, a mission to eliminate sexual misconduct and to ensure a professional work environment free from harassment and discrimination, in which all members are treated with respect and dignity.

Strong, Secure, Engaged

Canada’s defence policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged, prioritizes the well-being of CAF members and their families, and places an unprecedented emphasis on ensuring that they are well supported. The CAF continually reviews and amends personnel policies so that members, both women and men, can achieve a better balance between military service and family responsibilities. Additionally, demographic measures and indicators are regularly analyzed to identify systemic barriers to women in areas such as release from the military, enrolment, offers of indefinite periods of service, performance review rating comparisons, and award nominations.

Defence Women's Advisory Organization

The CAF consults with its Defence Women's Advisory Organization, at both the national and local levels, to gain advice on issues relevant to women in the military, as well as the implementation of employment equity. Canada also consults its NATO allies on gender issues via the NATO Committee on Gender Perspectives. This committee deals with the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security, as well as related UN resolutions.

- 30 -

Related Products

To follow


Media Relations
Department of National Defence
Phone: 613-996-2353
Toll-Free: 1-866-377-0811
Email: mlo-blm@forces.gc.ca

Date modified: