Women in the Canadian Armed Forces

Backgrounder / March 8, 2016

Women have been serving in Canada’s military for 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 allow women to serve in all occupations and today is setting ambitious goals to increase representation across all trades and ranks. Our objective is that in ten years, one in four CAF members will be women.

The CAF values female members and recognizes the strength they bring to our force through diversity and enhanced operational effectiveness.  Canada’s military continues to strive to better reflect Canadian society in our ranks as we promote Canadian values at home and abroad.

The purpose of this backgrounder is to:

  • provide an update on statistical data on women’s representation rates in the CAF; and
  • provide an overview of the recruitment and retention strategies currently being used and developed.


The CAF’s representation of women has grown from 11.4 percent in 2001 to 15 percent as of February 2016. In numbers, this translates to 13 863 women out of a total CAF membership of 92 617. A summary of female representation rates for officers and non-commissioned members (NCMs) in the Regular Force and Primary Reserve is as follows:

Regular ForceStrengthNumberPercentage
Officer 16 077 2 785 17.3%
NCM 49 828 6 674 13.4%
Total 65 905 9 459  14.3%
Primary Reserve
Officer  4 540   751 16.5%
NCM 22 172 3 653 16.5%
Total 26 712 4 404  16.5%
Officer 20 617  3 536 17.2%
NCM 72 000 10 327 14.3%
Total 92 617 13 863  15.0%

Women’s representation rates in CAF Combat Arms have grown from less than one percent in 1989‑90, when women were first allowed to join the Combat Arms, to 3.9 percent in February 2016. The representation rates for women in the CAF’s Combat Arms occupations (Armour, Artillery, Infantry, Combat Engineer) as of February 2016 were as follows:

Regular ForceStrengthNumberPercentage
Officer 3 127 144 4.6%
NCM 11 674 225 1.9%
Total 14 801 369 2.5%
Primary Reserve
Officer 1 770 74 4.2%
NCM 11 423 657 5.8%
Total 13 193 731 5.5%
Officer 4 897 218 4.5%
NCM 23 097 882 3.8%
Total 27 994 1 100 3.9%

In 2014-2015, the attrition rate for Regular Force female officers was 4.8 percent, which is lower than the value observed for male officers (6.5 percent).  For Regular Force female non-commissioned members it was 8.3 percent, which very close to the rate observed for men.

Recruitment and Retention of Women in the CAF

The CAF's goal within 10 years is for one in four members to be female. Currently, a new strategy is in development to achieve this objective with a focus on two key pillars: recruiting and retention.

The CAF recruiting strategy for women focuses on raising awareness of career opportunities in the CAF. This is done through advertising, job postings, media partnerships, social media, and individual recruiter efforts.  The CAF proactively engages with key leaders, women’s professional associations, educators, and other key influencers to showcase the diversity of employment opportunities. 

CAF members are selected for training and promotions, postings, and all career opportunities based on rank, qualifications, and merit, regardless of gender. In combat occupations, CAF members must meet the same combat operation 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 basic training for both officers and non-commissioned members and more advanced training is provided on advanced leadership qualification courses. Basic Diversity Training includes sessions on CAF personal conduct policies such as harassment prevention and resolution, personal conduct and relationships, sexual misconduct, and sexual harassment.

The CAF is committed to creating a safe work environment. All CAF members are provided training that emphasizes that sexual misconduct and sexual harassment are not tolerated and that a CAF member who engages in sexual misconduct is liable to disciplinary and administrative action, including release from the military.

The CAF continually reviews and amends personnel policies so CAF members, both women and men, can achieve a better balance between military service and family responsibilities. The CAF analyzes regularly its demographic measures and indicators to identify systemic barriers to women’s military careers in areas such as release from the military, enrolment, offers of indefinite periods of service, performance review rating comparisons, and award nominations.

The CAF consults with its Defence Women's Advisory Organization, both at the national and local level, 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.

Related Products

For more information, please visit the Historical Milestones of Women in the Canadian Armed Forces webpage.

Associated Links

For more information, please visit Women in the Forces

- 30 -


Media Relations
Department of National Defence
Phone: 613‑996-2353
Toll-Free: 1-866-377-0811

Date modified: