Women and security

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Twenty-six years ago, on December 6, a gunman entered a classroom at École Polytechnique and, after separating the men and women, shot and killed14 women. The Montréal Massacre, as it became known, shocked the nation and inspired Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

As I write this piece, it is day one of a 16-day campaign to mark a series of events to recognize the prevalence of violence against women. The campaign is bookended by International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25 and the International Human Rights Day on December 10, with our day of remembrance in between.

Canada is one of the world leaders in terms of the proportion of women in its military. Women can enroll in any CAF occupation, which includes operational trades, and serve in any environment. In all trades, CAF men and women are selected for training, promotions, postings and all career opportunities in exactly the same way—based on rank, qualifications and merit. Among our allies, the CAF is highly regarded as being at the forefront of military gender integration—something we need to maintain.

Despite this, the number of women in the CAF is still too low. At approximately 14 per cent of total members, CAF leadership believes our military will only become stronger with more women joining and serving in leadership roles at all levels. The CAF has many initiatives in progress to make the organization an employer of choice for women. One example is Operation HONOUR, a CAF-wide mission to make the organization an inclusive team, where all members are supported and work in a harassment-free environment. This is not only a moral obligation that the institution owes to its members, it is fundamental to sustaining our operational excellence.

There is progress being made on the international level as well. We are updating our policies to reflect these changes. Fifteen years ago, the United Nations Security Council adopted its first resolution on Women, Peace, and Security. Since adopting what is considered a landmark document, the UN Security Council has added six additional resolutions to complement UNSCR 1325 and deepen the commitments to the broader aspects of the Women, Peace and Security agenda. The most recent of these is UN Security Council Resolution 2242, adopted on October 13.

In the weeks following, the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, announced—in accordance with UNSCR 2242—the CAF will hire advisers to integrate gender perspectives into our operational planning, execution, and assessment. It will also make relevant changes to the CAF’s Joint Doctrine, education, and training. The goal is to have these gender advisers in place in early 2016.

This strategic initiative is a new way of looking at operations which have been, historically, a male-dominated environment both nationally and internationally. UNSCR 2242 recognizes this only deals with half the population and that it is important to ensure a gender perspective is part of developing policies, activities and efforts to prevent and resolve conflicts. By embracing UNSCRs, the CAF is focused on changing behaviours in order to generate positive, permanent change.

When I pause to remember on December 6, I will be thinking of the actions the CAF are focused on now—engaging both our women and men—in the effort to prevent this type of violence from happening again.

Rear-Admiral Jennifer Bennett
Defence Champion for Women

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