Women in Combat

Women have always played a valuable role in Canada’s military. Since 1885, women have served as nurses and medics on the front lines, often serving in the important, but not the main roles of the military, the combat arms. The paradigm at the time was that women were too weak to fight. Many argued that women are on average, shorter and smaller than men, with 45-50% less upper body strength and 25-30% less aerobic capacity, which is essential for endurance. Many of the jobs restricted for women were often jobs considered to be masculine, such as mechanic, military police, and of course infantry.

The Army was always viewed as a hard job, and it was well known from the previous wars what hell the soldiers went through. Many people believed women could not, and should not handle such a burden. Women were given no say in whether they wanted to, the decision was already made. This conclusion about women was absurd. Women are just as fit as men to serve in combat situations.

For example, female Police Officers were employed with the RCMP as early as 1974, and faced similar dangers to those of Canadian Forces. Women were more than equal in ability with men to fight for their country, and lost out on the valiant sacrifice until 1989, when a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision directed the Canadian Forces to remove all restrictions barring women from employment in the CF except for that of submarine service.

The Tribunal allowed a phased implementation process, with the goal of completely integrating women by 1999. This act opened all doors for women, excluding only submarine service. Although they could now enter the combat arms, it was still a struggle to prove themselves, as they were seen as inferior, and often picked on or forced to do extra work. The ban on submarine service was because it was believed that a mixed group of men and women would run into problems in an enclosed, isolated space for a long time. Finally in 2001, women were granted complete acceptance into any trade within the military. Many institutions today are still sexist towards job allocation, pay and benefits, and there is still a struggle for equality among sexes. However, through a very slow process, and a struggle for women fighting to distinguish themselves in the early years of service, the military is one of the few organizations that has changed itself to meet the equal expectations of the 21st century. Now with almost 15% of military personnel female, other institutions can look upon the Canadian Forces, and see that women do their job well, and definitely deserve to be given equal chances with men.

– Philip Primmer

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