Madam Chair and honourable members,
I'll be giving my statement in English.
I thank you for the opportunity to speak on the important topic of the employment of women in the Canadian Armed Forces. As background, my experience with changes in the employment of women in the CAF started in 1978. I have been conducting research, contributing to policy development, monitoring evolutions and teaching on gender in the military at the Canadian Forces College since.
I interpret that the current study is informed by the objectives of the original royal commission to ensure the full participation of women in all aspects of Canadian society. In this case, it is to set the conditions to enable women to make an optimum contribution to delivering defence and security for Canadians.
I'll start with changes in the CAF over time to inform the current context. Faced with the six recommendations for the CAF in the 1970 royal commission report, the 1970s and 1980s was a period of denial and resistance by many, but not all, in uniform. A number of men could not envision women as able to perform core operational roles. A narrative was constructed that accentuated gender differences. All men could leap a tall building in a single bound; no women could climb a flight of stairs.
While no longer widely held, the focus on male supremacy still echoes in parts of the CAF. The 1990s and the early 2000s saw a shift to grudging tolerance and eventual acceptance but with women constantly on trial. Poor performance by a man could be ignored or excused while that by a women could be met with dismissal. We knew she couldn't cut it.
With the intensive operations conducted in Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and elsewhere, the evolution since 2005 was seen by many as full acceptance. Women have been there, done that and earned the T-shirt and the medals. This has come, however, with a new narrative that replaced the constructed gender differences with the belief that the CAF is gender neutral. A common phrase is, “I don't see gender. I don't hear accents. I don't see colour. I just see soldiers, and they all compete on a level field”. The CAF is not gender neutral, and the field is not level.
Women have demonstrated very capably that they can perform military roles in ways that earn the respect of their male superiors, peers and subordinates, but most do so by adopting highly masculine behaviours and, for some, masculine world views, attitudes and values. This is no surprise as the military engages in very intentional processes to convert the civilian into the soldier, sailor, aviator, leader, commander. The challenge is that what is produced is highly masculinized. The CAF is just now beginning to ask at what cost.
In what ways are women, men and others prevented from making an optimum contribution when they are socialized into one specific way of thinking and acting?
I'll now turn to Operation Honour and harassment of women with two initial comments. First, I cannot see another organization in Canada or the military internationally doing more than the CAF. The challenge is, it's still not enough. Second, it's complicated. There are a number of reasons why women, some men, LGB individuals and non-binary folk are subject to unwanted and unprofessional behaviours. The efforts you have been briefed on by CAF leaders are all necessary actions, but the CAF has yet to really tackle two key factors.
The first is that the military is a very judgmental profession. Individuals judge each other constantly and for good reason. They want to know that those around them will have their back when the brown stuff hits the rotating object, but this becomes problematic when excuses are made for men who trip in mud puddles but, as you have heard, not for women or other non-conforming people.
Second, as part of this process of constantly judging, the military creates very clear social hierarchies indicating who is the most important and who is the least. CAF is not alone here. The order of seating in committee rooms serves the same purpose. The key issue is that this pecking order is established and policed through the use of social power. Research has clearly demonstrated that many, not all, cases of harassment are about power. Labelling actions as sexual misconduct is misleading.
If I hit you with a shovel, you wouldn't call it gardening.
The challenge for CAF members is to thread the needle where all still have confidence in the capability of their peers—everybody has to measure up—and where those who are given power—some still need power—know how to use it properly, while removing the risk that judgmental assessments and constructed power are used to marginalize women or others who don't fit the hyper-masculine norm.
A number of researchers have suggested that the solution is to amend this norm and allow alternate ways of being seen as an effective military member. This would include shifting from the current focus on normative conformity to practising inclusive leadership.
Finally, I'll return to the comments of General Lawson when Madame Deschamps surprised senior military leaders with her findings. He stated that the CAF had been taking actions and things had been improving since the 1994 Maclean's articles. He was right, but he missed a key point. The expectations of women as to what was and was not acceptable had shifted significantly. We've seen this more broadly in the #MeToo movement. Social expectations will continue to evolve and could result in another sharp break, where tolerated practices suddenly become unacceptable.
This is not just restricted to women. A common phase among young Canadians these days is “check your privilege”. An old phrase among military officers is “RHIP”, which means rank has its privileges. There's a culture clash.
I would conclude that the CAF is going to continue to have to find ways to create the individual and group characteristics needed for operations, while also meeting ongoing evolution in how individuals expect to be treated and how they will expect to be able to contribute to mission success.
I have a short list of recommendations that I will table for the committee's consideration.