Print pagePDF page

The Atlantic Council of Canada: Women on the Frontline

21 November 2012 

Colonel Jennie Carignan

Colonel Jennie Carignan. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

On Wednesday November 21, 2012, The Atlantic Council of Canada hosted its first roundtable discussion on the role of women in the Canadian Forces and the defence industry, entitled, Women on the Frontline. The conference served as a platform to identify and analyze both the barriers and initiatives set by military institutions to integrate women into domestic and international defence policies. Distinguished speakers included, Kursten Riswold (M.A. Candidate, Dalhousie University), Colonel Jennie Carignan (Chief of Staff of Land Forces Central Area/Joint Task force Central), and Major Krista Dunlop (Canadian Forces College).

Kursten Riswold started the conversation with a critical assessment of the current policies in the Canadian Forces towards women, arguing that they are androcentric in nature and tend to address issues of maternity and child care in a strictly logistical manner, continuing to favour men in uniform over women. Colonel Jennie Carignan and Major Krista Dunlop, although recognizing that barriers to the acceptance of women in the Canadian Forces do exist, used personal examples from their deployments to Afghanistan in order to highlight the significant and influential role that women have in the Canadian Forces, especially in countries where women’s rights are very restricted. They emphasized that their gender is what allowed them to connect to the women in Afghanistan, who live in a primarily male dominated environment, where violence against women is high and their freedoms are very limited. They provided these women with hope, inspiring them to find empowerment through local initiatives, like those set up by the Canadian Forces, such as hiring Afghan women to produce back packs for the Afghan National Army as well as the training and integration of Afghan women into the Afghan National Army. Furthermore, Dunlop stressed the need for female role models in society that can exude confidence and leadership, while demanding respect and acceptance in order to shift societal behaviours towards women in leadership roles, whether that is in the military or in any other profession. Carignan and Dunlop argue that it is leadership and confidence which are integral to mission success in the Canadian Forces, not gender. Therefore, Dunlop concluded in her presentation, equality is only an issue if you allow it to be; equality is everyone’s to lose, male or female.