History of Women in Combat: Canada
Women in Combat History
For many years female soldiers have been an integral part of the Canadian military, working in administrative and supportive roles. However, it wasn’t until Canada’s Charter of Rights was enacted in 1982, that the Armed Forces were required to consider the equality of women in the services and to permit them into all military roles. It took 7 more years, until 1989, for all combat roles to finally be opened to women.
That same year the Canadian Human Rights Commission gave the Canadian Forces 10 years to meet a specific quota for women employed in the combat trades.
In 1998 the Canadian Forces embarked on a series of initiatives aimed at recruiting more women into the combat trades. While the number of women joining these trades has risen gradually for almost two decades, attrition remains an issue, with significantly higher rates of women leaving their military careers than men. Military culture remains a barrier, and today, only two percent (about 250 out of 14,000) of soldiers in the combat trades are women.
Most other countries do not permit women into the combat trades. In 2011, Australia opened up its combat trades to women, and in January 2013, the U.S. lifted its ban on women in combat. In Britain and several other western nations, there is ongoing debate at the highest levels of government over allowing women into battle.
While the number of women joining combat trades has risen gradually for almost two decades, attrition remains an issue, with significantly higher rates of women leaving their military careers than men. Military culture remains a significant barrier, and today, only two percent (about 250 out of 14,000) of soldiers in the combat trades are women. The war in Afghanistan represents the first time in Canadian history that women are fighting in frontline combat.
1978 Canada’s Human Rights Act comes into effect
1979 Military colleges open their doors to women.
1982 Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms is entrenched in Canada’s constitution guaranteeing that there can be no discrimination on the basis of gender
1989 Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decrees that all Canadian Forces trades and occupations be open to women within 10 years. The Canadian Armed Forces opens all occupations, including combat roles and that same year, Pte. Heather R. Erxleben becomes Canada’s first female Regular Force infantry soldier.
1991 Lieut. Anne Reiffenstein (nee Proctor), Lieut. Holly Brown and Capt. Linda Shrum graduate from artillery training as the first female officers in the combat arms.
2003 Maj. Anne Reiffenstein is the first female to command a combat arms sub-unit.
2006 Canada experienced its first loss of an active combat female soldier fighting on the front lines in Afghanistan.
2010 Major Eleanor Taylor is the first female to lead an infantry company and is deployed to Afghanistan. Approximately 2% (250) of regular force combat troops are women; and 3.75% (99) of regular force officers are women.
2011 Australia allows women into combat trades
2013 U.S. lifts the ban on women in combat
2016 Women will begin training in combat roles in the U.S.