When most Canadians conjure up the image of a soldier in their minds, they probably picture a man.
However, women have a long history of serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, starting in 1885 when they served as nurses for the first time in Canadian military history.
In the intervening 127 years, tens of thousands of women have served in the Canadian Armed Forces and many of them have made history along the way, becoming the first women in the world to be infantry soldiers, fighter pilots, Major-Generals and warship commanders.
Check out some other important milestones for women in the Canadian Armed Forces:
- 1941: The Canadian government decides to enroll more than 45,000 women volunteers for full-time military service other than nursing.
- 1965: A government decision is made to continue to employ women in the Canadian military, but a fixed ceiling of 1,500 is established, meaning only 1.5% of the Canadian Armed Forces at that time were women.
- 1979: Military colleges open their doors to women.
- 1989: All occupations, including combat roles, are opened to women, with the exception of submarines.
- 2000: Women are allowed to serve in submarines.
Today, Canada is one of only about a dozen countries around the world that allow women to serve in all occupations in its military, including combat roles. The Canadian Armed Forces have a “no exclusion policy,” which means that all career paths and ranks are open to the women who join.
Approximately 10,000 women currently serve in the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force, making up about 15% of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Women in the Canadian Armed Forces have built schools in Afghanistan, combated piracy off the coast of Africa and evacuated victims of flooding in Manitoba. They work in jobs as varied as Meteorological Technician, Pilot, Pharmacy Officer and Naval Combat Systems Engineering Officer, just to name a few.
They can also be found even in the most traditionally male-dominated fields within the Canadian Armed Forces, such as construction.
For example, Peterborough, Ont., native Laura Locklin is a Construction Engineering Officer who is posted in Comox, B.C. “I only finished training a few months ago, and I like the high tempo and the challenges that we have in the construction engineering trade,” she says.
Like all other Canadian Armed Forces officers, Laura has had to pass rigorous physical and mental testing, and then complete Basic Officer Training before moving on to other phases of training specialized to her occupation. The basic training includes field exercises, obstacle courses, swimming, physical training and fitness evaluations, which test both women and men against a number of performance objectives, including aerobic fitness, push-ups, sit-ups and hand grip.
Today, Laura leads teams of construction engineering technicians in the planning, budgeting and execution of airfield and other infrastructure projects. “I think the coolest part of the job is getting to work in and with people that have such a wealth of knowledge in different trades,” she says. “I’m not a tradesperson, but I manage six different very important trades.”
- Women in the Canadian Armed Forces often have the opportunity to work on important missions abroad, too.
Social Work Officer Mercy Yeboah-Ampadu, based out of Canadian Armed Forces Base Edmonton, says serving in Afghanistan has been the most rewarding part of her career so far. “It was awesome to give back in that location, in that context, to the soldiers who are coming in hurting, and giving them hope to continue and some strength so that they could believe in themselves and believe in their abilities and complete the mission.”
As a Social Work Officer, Mercy works in collaboration with other healthcare professionals to deliver professional social work services and support the morale, efficiency and mental health of soldiers, sailors and air personnel. “It’s about serving soldiers. And when you see someone succeed in managing their situation, in feeling better, in doing better and going on to have such promising, successful careers, the rewards that you get, that you were able to be a part of that – there are no words for it,” she says.