Friday, June 15, 2018

Bercuson: The challenge of Recruiting Women to the Canadian Armed Forces

By: David Bercuson, iPolitics 

One of the innovative programs that grows out of the Strong, Secure and Engaged defence policy statement released a year ago is the Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) project launched by the Department of National Defence in April this year. The project promises $1.3 billion over ten years to be distributed to scholars, businesses and researchers generally who undertake competitive endeavors to help the government solve 16 defence and security challenges in many domains. The majority of the proposals the government is seeking help with are highly technical challenges but one – to achieve 25 per cent female participation in the Canadian forces within ten years – is most decidedly not.

In this undated photo provided by Canadian Armed Forces Capt. Ashley Collette, poses for a photo with children during a patrol in Afghanistan. During her 10-month deployment, Collette led a 50-strong all-male infantry unit providing security to villagers. The Department of National Defence has set the goal of 25 per cent of the Canadian forces being women in the next 10 years. (AP Photo/Capt. Ashley Collette)
Since 2000, women are eligible to serve in any branch of the Canadian Armed Forces in any capacity. Today about 15 per cent of Canada’s soldiers, sailors and air personnel are women. That number has been relatively static for some time. The government wants to see more women in the CAF for very good reasons, namely that female perspectives in the entire range of armed forces activities and defence-related matters is crucial and that any nation, company or military force that either excludes or does not encourage full participation of one half of humanity in its endeavours will be outpaced by those that do.

"But ‘manliness’ today is a concept much in dispute, as evolving gender roles have opened up large areas of society to female participation. Remember when the doctor was a kindly older man? Today there are more women than men in medical schools."

So what is the problem? The CAF offers a good career for young men and women who crave adventure in their lives, are physically and mentally fit, and who want to step out of the confines of an office or a factory assembly line. Benefits are generous, pay is at least equal to that in the private sector and Canadians today pay a great deal of honour and respect to those who serve.

There is really no secret to increasing the number of women in the Canadian armed forces and it begins with security of the person. From time immemorial, soldiering was seen as a male endeavor. In historian Geoffrey Hayes latest book Crerar’s Lieutenants: Inventing the Canadian Junior Army Officer, 1939-45, much emphasis is placed on that quality called “manliness” that dominated thinking about what would make a good junior officer in the Second World War. The concept itself is not new and other historians have written about “manliness” as an essential quality going back to the days of the Canadian militia. But “manliness” today is a concept much in dispute, as evolving gender roles have opened up large areas of society to female participation. Remember when the doctor was a kindly older man? Today there are more women than men in medical schools.

If women do not feel secure, at ease and totally comfortable as themselves, in uniform, why would they think of a career in the military forces? It’s hard to say if sexual harassment is any more prevalent in the military than in industry, broadcasting, entertainment or education, but those fields have become as traditional for women as they once were for men. And within those areas of employment, women are increasingly vocal in their fight to be treated as human beings. In the military, with its hierarchical chain of command, fighting city hall is much harder.

The other task, no less important, is to fight that still prevalent belief among males that women may be good civil-military relations folks, but poor trigger pullers, by ensuring from the word go — in training at all levels — that the female person standing beside you is just as qualified in her field of military occupation as you are and will have your back, as necessary.

Easy to say, but the challenges, even in the early 21st century, are immense.
David Bercuson is Director of Programs at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and Director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.

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