It was not until 1941, when the Royal Canadian Air Force created the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force division, that women were allowed to enlist in military service. Prior to this, women wishing to contribute to the war effort did so in more conventional manners: as nurses, civilian workers, or volunteers with the Red Cross and other charitable organizations. By July 1942, the army had begun accepting women as the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) was organized, allowing women to take on important roles within the forces. The Navy followed soon after. After WW2, although many women were sent back to their households, the active contribution of women during the war would change women’s lives forever.
When the Canadian Army Corps Military Organization began enlisting women, recruiters only accepted women between the ages of 21 and 49, who had a grade 11 education and could pass a medical examination. Women could not apply if they were married and had dependent children, or worked in permanent positions within the civil service. For the women who did enlist, they faced substantial discrimination. They earned roughly 60 percent of what their male counterparts were paid and they could not serve on the front lines. Despite this discrimination, almost 50,000 women served in World War II and thrived to succeed in further military action. To see a two minute film produced during the war click here
In the years after World War II, as the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) and other military organizations such as the Combat Related Employment of Women (CREW) were disbanded. In 1951,for the duration of the Korean Conflict, the decision was made to enlist women again in the regular forces. More than 5,000 women were serving by 1955. Then in 1965, the government decided to renew employing women in the Canadian military with a fixed ceiling of 1,500 and to include women in all three services.
It was in 1970 that The Royal Commission on the Status of Women recommended changes that would provide equal opportunities for women in Canada. The Canadian Charter of Rights was signed in 1982, which banned discrimination in a number of areas including sex. The first area of the Canadian forces to fully except women in combat was the Air Force. In 1987 they announced that all areas of employment were open to women. The Navy was the next to accept women in combat. In 2000 it was announced that women could serve in submarines. Finally in 2001, women were given the right of employment into any trade within the military.
In 2006 women were finally given the right to fight on the front lines along side of men in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sixty-five years after the first women entered the Royal Canadian Air Force, women finally gained fully equal opportunities in the military. WW2 marked the start of changing unequal rights in the military for women.
Only two per cent of women were in combat roles and about nine per cent of Canadian Forces personnel sent to Afghanistan were women. There were 310 women deployed in combat positions during the Afghan mission; more than triple the number seen in the previous decade of peacekeeping missions.
As women make up over 12 per cent of the Canadian Forces today, their contribution is vital. Canada is one of the only armed forces in the world to remove all barriers to full and equal service for all members, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. This means that women have the opportunity to work in any sector of the Canadian Forces, with the support and encouragement of their country behind them.
-Rosalie Walsh & Heidi Luby
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in Other Allied Forces by Jenny Higgins
This article is from the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage website. It provides information relating to women’s service in the Canadian forces and the dates when women joined The Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, The Canadian Women’s Army Corps, and The Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service. It also explains the inequality women endured while serving in the forces.
The Canadian Women’s Army Corps, 1941-1946 by Barbara Dundas and Dr. Serge Durflinger
This article is from the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation website. The article is about the how World War II is a milestone in the history of women’s participation in the Canadian military. It outlines the roles of women on the military.
Canadian Forces Website
This link provides a timeline of women’s involvement in the Canadian forces from 1885 to 2011.