Women in the Canadian Armed Forces

Backgrounder / March 7, 2017

March 7, 2017 – Ottawa – National Defence / Canadian Armed Forces

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 January 2017 CAF General and Flag Officer appointments and promotions resulted in the largest number of women (nine) serving in the senior ranks of the CAF in history.

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.

Statistics

The CAF’s representation of women has grown from 11.4 percent in 2001 to 15.1 percent as of February 2017. In numbers, this translates to 14 016 women out of a total CAF membership (Regular Force and Primary Reserve) of 92 787. A summary of female representation rates for officers and non-commissioned members (NCMs) in the Regular Force and Primary Reserve is as follows:

Representation of women in the CAF (February 2017)

 

CAF

Women

Regular Force

Strength

Number

Percentage

Officer

16 263

2 865

17.6%

NCM

49 743

6 758

13.6%

Total

66 006

9 623

 14.6%

Primary Reserve

Officer

 4 620

  759

16.4%

NCM

22 160

3 634

16.4%

Total

26 781

4 393

 16.4%

CAF

Officer

20 883

 3 624

17.4%

NCM

71 903

10 392

14.5%

Total

92 787

14 016

 15.1%

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 4.1 percent in February 2017. The representation rates for women in the CAF’s Combat Arms occupations (Armour, Artillery, Infantry, Combat Engineer) as of February 2017 were as follows:

Representation of women in CAF combat arms (February 2017)

 

CAF

Women

Regular Force

Strength

Number

Percentage

Officer

 3 165

 156

4.9%

NCM

12 085

 241

2.0%

Total

15 250

 397

 2.6%

Primary Reserve

Officer

  1 807

  77

4.3%

NCM

11 565

697

6.0%

Total

13 372

774

 5.8%

CAF

Officer

4 972

   233

4.7%

NCM

23 650

   938

4.0%

Total

28 622

 1 171

 4.1%

In 2015-2016, the attrition rate for Regular Force female officers was 6.1 percent, which is lower than the rate for male officers (6.6 percent). For Regular Force female non-commissioned members it was 6.9 percent, which is lower than the rate for male non-commissioned members (7.3 percent).

Recruitment and Retention of Women in the CAF

The CAF's goal is to increase the number of female personnel by 1% annually, so that within 10 years, one in four members will 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 emphasizing 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 that CAF members, both women and men, can achieve a better balance between military service and family responsibilities. The CAF regularly analyses 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, 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.

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Related Products

Fact Sheet, Historical Milestones of Women in the Canadian Armed Forces

Contacts

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

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