Canadian Armed Forces and women over the years

Women of CAF

Georgina Fane Pope was the first Matron of the Canadian Army Medical Corps.

By Mishall Rehman

This article was originally published in Canadian Military Family Magazine’s March Madness 2018 issue.

Women have a proud and storied history of serving in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). For more than 100 years, whether it was nursing wounded soldiers or taking the battlefield by storm, women have stepped up in times of need to serve their country.

Today, women serve in various trades across the board, and the age of gender equality has been ushered in by the CAF. However, it took many decades and a number of brave women to pave the way for today’s gender-equal Canadian military.

It was in 1885 that women first made their mark on Canadian military history when they served as nurses during the Northwest Rebellion, albeit as civilians.
For the next few decades until the First World War, women only served as nurses. Then, for the first time, women served outside the nursing capacity with the creation of female paramilitary groups. These women dressed in military-style uniforms and trained in small arms, first aid, and vehicle maintenance in case a force was needed on the home front.

However, women still primarily served in a nursing capacity. There were 2,800 nurses, mostly women, who served with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps.
During the Second World War, women served their country valiantly again. The Second World War saw the largest number of women who have ever served in the Canadian Armed Forces at one time. They again largely served in a nursing capacity, more than 5,000 nurses, mostly women, served in the Army, Navy, and Air Force Medical Corps.

Additionally, the Canadian government recruited more than 45,000 volunteers for full-time military service in the women’s divisions of all three services. As the war progressed, the range of duties for these members expanded from clerks, cooks, drivers, and telephone operators to include mechanics, parachute riggers, and heavy mobile equipment drivers.

After the Second World War, women continued to serve in the military in roles traditionally geared towards females. In the 1970s, however, a number of government reviews looked into how women could contribute in a broader range of trades.

Thanks to the persistence and bravery of these pioneers, in 1989 the combat arms were finally opened to women, and eleven years later submarine service was also opened to women. The CAF became one of the first and few militaries in the world to allow women in all occupations.

“Women in the Canadian Armed Forces today are proud to be carrying the torch of the generations of Canadian women who served as trailblazers before us and who opened doors to the wide range of career options and opportunities that we now enjoy across Canadian society.  We can take great pride in the incredible contributions that Canadian service women have made and continue to make, and the positive changes we have influenced for women and girls here in Canada, and around the world. While we honour our history, we also continue to look towards the future, seeking new ways for women in Canada to demonstrate success, and encourage the trailblazers and leaders of tomorrow,” said RAdm. Jennifer Bennett Defence Champion for Women.

Today’s gender-inclusive CAF is working towards increasing the number of women in the services. The goal is to increase the number of female CAF members by one per cent every year so that in ten years’ time, one in four members of the CAF will be women.

In January 2017, the CAF General and Flag Officer appointments and promotions resulted in the largest number of women, nine, serving in the senior ranks in CAF history.

Women of CAF History pt 1

Women of CAF History pt 2

Women of CAF History pt 3