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There are only ten countries in the world that allow women to fight in frontline combat, and Canada is one of them. The mission in Afghanistan marks the first time in Canadian history that women soldiers are fighting in direct ground combat.


SIA goes to UN in New York

Just came back from the screening of Sisters Arms at the Canadian Mission in New York City! We were here as a side event during the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women hosted by the Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN and UN Women.

I had the privilege of sharing the program with award winning filmmaker Abigail Disney, producer of  Pray the Devil Back to Hell , the inspirational story of the women of Liberia and their efforts to bring peace to their broken nation after decades of destructive civil war.  She currently developing a four-hour project called Women, War & Peace.

The audience included Canadian Military Advisor Colonel Christopher Simonds, Executive Director of The Status of Women Canada, and representatives from the US, Chilean and South African missions.

We had a fascinating Q & A with Abigail, Sarah Douglas – expert on gender and security sector reform with UN Women, and Karen Davis dialed in from Kingston, Ontario. There was a real appreciation for the way the Sisters in Arms women were portrayed – clear, confident, empowered – as too often women are shown as victims (of the system, war, men etc).

Sisters in Arms was very well received and a number of people expressed interest in arranging screenings for their audiences.

The dialogue has truly begun.  Next week we’ll be screening in Ottawa and Kingston with upcoming dates in Washington DC, Fredericton NB, and Toronto!

Special thanks to Chantale Walker of the Canadian Mission for inviting us to screen at this event!

Your comments are always Welcome.

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Women in Combat – Why not?

A government commission will urge the U.S. military this spring to allow women to serve as combat soldiers, but the Pentagon is not likely to adopt those recommendations any time soon as it struggles with two long wars and a new policy toward gay troops.” Reuters.com article Jan 20, 2011

Despite a US government sponsored commission that recommends removing the restrictions that ban women from the combat trades in the US military, the policy will likely go unchanged. Britain also recently decided to maintain their exclusion of women in ground combat roles.

In todays wars in Afghanistan and Iraq the distinction of combat vs non combat does not apply. Whether by roadside bombs or ambushes of patrol units, all soldiers are under threat and de facto, in combat.

In Canada, women have been working in the combat trades since 1989 and are active in those roles in Afghanistan.

What do you think are the biggest challenges for allowing women into combat roles? How does it work for the troops in Canada?

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I am glad my children are safe at home

Yet another month completed – this makes 7, with 5 remaining – but who’s counting?!

The month of December seemed to go by quickly, and it’s hard to believe that it’s 2011 already.  I can remember the craziness of starting the new millennium – and here we are, 11 years later.

This month has seen it’s share of challenges here in Afghanistan – Kabul had a few incidents, albeit ineffective ones – and there continues to be insurgent activitiy.  We lost another soldier in December, and that always brings us back from a complacency that tends to set in when things are going well to yet another reality check.  Cpl Martin wasn’t even 25, yet this was his third operational tour – one in Haiti and this, his second to Afghanistan.  When you think of it, I am surrounded by so many young men and women here – military members the age of my own children – and when all the Canadians get together here in Kabul for our own ceremony to honor those who have died, it is generally my honour to say a few words.  Though it’s hard and never gets easier – nor should it – I can’t help but wonder what I would do or feel if I was the parent, the peer or the leader of the fallen.  Sobering thoughts – and to be honest, I am glad my children are safe at home.

I still maintain that progress is happening.  We continue to see insurgents laying down their weapons to reintegrate within their families and communities, village elders and others coming back to their homes because the security has improved, schools and shops opening, and remaining open, freedom of movement where there wasn’t any before and in many other areas.  This certainly doesn’t mean drastically reduced violence throughout the country – but it does give us hope that we are heading in that direction.

The beginning of Dec saw me visit the School of Hope once again, this time to be present at something of an awards ceremony.  The ceremony itself was quite traditional, filled with prayer, speeches by school officials, government officials and religious elders, music and food – however, one big exception was that every award (which comprised a certificate and 200 Euros) was given to a female student.  The rationale of course to motivate them – and their parents – to keep them in school, but also to motivate other girls to do the same.  Interestingly, the money for the awards came from 7 different Rotary Clubs in the Rome area of Italy.  The Rotary clubs were even represented at the ceremony and got to meet with the girls afterwards.  I am constantly amazed to learn where our Rotarians are engaged around the globe – and this was no exception.  10,000 Euros for 50 female students.

Christmas and new years for me were spend connecting with family through skype. We were so fortunate to have more than an hour of uninterrupted skype Christmas morning so I could partake in the gift opening with Ian and the kids and in the gift exchange for my side of the family.  You know, when I was deployed to Bosnia for a year, we only had the odd phone call and hand written letters – this is much better , I couldn’t imagine doing this without skype and email!  And I was really blessed in that so many of my family and friends sent me packages of home-made goodies, chocolates, coffee, treats, gifts, Christmas trees (yup that’s right!  Both my husband and sister-in-law sent me small Christmas trees with ornaments!), and a whole host of other things.  I have to admit, I’m pretty popular with all these edible goodies!

The good news of course is that I am well over the half way mark, and I will be taking my second R&R period sometime in Jan.  I will be going home for this one – spending time with Ian and the kids.

Well – as always, I would ask for you to continue to keep our Canadian military members in your thoughts and prayers.

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On being in Afghanistan

Major Eleanor Taylor is the first woman to command an infantry company in a war zone.  You can read more about her in a recent article.  She posts from Afghanistan:

My name is Major Eleanor Taylor and I will be returning home from Afghanistan in just over a week.  I arrived here in April, and during my rotation I was employed as Charles Company Commander as part of The 1 RCR Battle Group.   We were responsible for the Western-most portion of the Canadian area of responsibility and were based in Patrol Base Sperwan Ghar.  This patrol base was made up largely of infantry troops, but also was home to a whole host of enablers who supported operations from both in and outside the wire.  Our numbers fluctuated between 150 and 300 Canadian soldiers, depending on the types of operations we were conducting.  We also shared our patrol base with two infantry companies and one artillery battery from the Afghan National Army.

During the time that we were deployed in Panjawai we conducted various types of operations.  They included operations designed to support local Afghan governance and development initiatives, and operations designed to degrade the capability of the insurgents who were seeking to undermine the efforts of the Afghan government.  For example, we assisted the Afghan police and army forces as they provided security during the elections.  In areas where we knew the insurgents were operating we conducted large and small scale search operations in an effort to find the insurgents and their weapons and IED making material.  We spent a lot of time patrolling our area speaking with locals trying to determine how we could improve the security situation.   Almost everything we did was partnered with the Afghan National Army and Police forces and while this extended the amount of time required to prepare for operations, it ensured that the ISAF forces and ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) acted as a united front.

I am often asked if being a woman commander in Afghanistan served as handicap for me.  I had been warned that the local men would not speak with me and would not take me seriously.  I found this perception to be categorically inaccurate.  While the village elders were initially surprised at my presence it was clear that they understood that I wielded power and influence.  They treated me with respect and had no difficulty communicating with me.  No one demanded that I wear a headdress, although I had come prepared with one in case my uncovered hair presented an obstacle.  It did not.  In fact, on several instances, I was told by the elders that they were happy to have me as the Commander in the area because they knew that women are compassionate and truly want to help the people.  While that too is a gender bias, it was one that served me well given the fact that we were seeking to gain the trust of the population.

Throughout my career I have tried to steer away from any attention that being a woman in the infantry might bring.  I have found that quiet hard work and consistent performance have been the best weapons in the silent battle against antiquated perceptions.  That said, in spite of the tremendous support that I have received during my career, there have been times when I have encountered challenges that my Brothers-in-Arms have had no experience with.  I believe that “Sisters in Arms” and initiatives like it assist in providing both information and encouragement to our sister warriors during those times when a slightly different perspective is necessary.

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We want to hear from you!

Over the past month, Sisters in Arms has had a number of television broadcasts and private screenings.

Our hopes for the film are to provide audiences with a personal connection to the featured  women; develop a new understanding of the people who choose to serve their country in this way; and encourage dialogue within the military as so many female soldiers would benefit from shared experiences, more role models and improved mentorship opportunities.

If you’ve seen the film, we want to hear from you.  Your thoughts and comments are a valuable contribution to the discussion that has been percolating for months.  Please keep it coming on the website, on the FB page or send me us an email!

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