Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests. Thank you very much for this invitation.
Recently, I wore the same T-shirt I am wearing now at an event. It says, "you owe me 21 cents". The T-shirt was meant to provoke discussion about the pay gap between men and women. A friend of mine, a veteran whom I served with in service battalion, said, “Luckily, we don't have that problem in the military because of equal pay for equal rank.” I said, “Excuse me?”
Today, I would like to share with you my response to him. I said, first of all, when 15% of service personnel are women and only 10% of those serve as flag officers and general officers, you owe me 21¢. When 90% of deployed troops are men, it means that close to 90% of spouses who stay in the background, hold up the fort, keep the house going—and the children, and often undertake elderly care as well, to the detriment of their own careers—are women, so you owe me 21¢. When less than 38% of men take parental leave, and most of them don't even take those two weeks, again we can conclude that women are holding the fort to the detriment of their careers, so you owe me 21¢.
This is why the issue is so important. I am currently holding retreats across the country with women veterans and women spouses of military members. They have been uprooted and been away from their family and don't have the “tribe”.
These are the general themes they are experiencing. Apart from the harassment and the abuse, these are the general themes.
The first one is that they are tired. They are leaving the military exhausted. They've tried to do it all, and above all, they've tried to juggle children, their home, their career, their womanhood, and they feel exhausted as they transition out of the military into civilian life.
The second is that they are resentful. They are resentful because for all of those years, they have put somebody else's career ahead of themselves. They are also fearful: fearful of being alone, fearful of the next chapter of their lives. Their bodies have changed; many of them are broken; they've moved around a lot; the kids have grown. Now their centre of gravity is no longer existent. They don't have a tribe.
This is what I'm seeing across the country. I just got back from Comox, from my last retreat, and these themes are very present.
This, then, is my opinion on what we need to do. The first thing is, we need to continue supporting and finding ways to support our military families. We're doing amazing things right now in the CAF. We—and I say "we" even many years after leaving the military—need to continue doing this.
We also need to put pressure on men to be more present caregivers, with children but also with elderly care. We need to change the stigma in the military with regard to paternal leave and encourage and recognize and acknowledge those men who are taking parental leave. We need mentoring programs and exit interviews. We need data; we need to measure those who are being mentored—how many exit interviews we are doing of designated group members.
Most of all, we need to stay the course.