Blame Canada! On women in combat and research


A few quick points about developments in women in combat. An article published this morning quotes Chief of the Defence Force General Hurley as saying that, as a result of examining the Canadian experience, all combat arms would now likely be opened up to women at the same time.

At Senate Estimates in May General Hurley stated the following lessons learned from the Canadians:

  • A targeted proportion of women in combat arms will not define success;
  • It is better to recruit 1 or 2 women into combat arms rather than wait until a critical mass is formed;
  • Don’t separate women into a distinctive group; they’re there to be part of a team.

The ADF was smart in engaging and hosting a Canadian military delegation in May and has now formulated a cautious approach informed by these experiences.

The bottom line is that, political decision-making aside, this issue is being developed in Australia via research. While women in combat continues to provoke emotional debate spurred by anecdotal exchanges based often on legitimate concerns, there is a lot of research available related to women in combat  that could usefully inform discussion. The following are but a few:

  • Cawkill et al, ‘Women in Ground Close Combat Roles: The Experiences of other Nations and a Review of the Academic Literature’, UK Ministry of Defence, 2009, PDF here.
  • Felman and Hanlon, ‘Count Us In: The Experiences of Female War, Peacemaking, and Peacekeeping Veterans’, Armed Forces & Society, April 2012, available here, research based on experiences of Australian female veterans.
  • Fasting and Sand, ‘Gender and Military Issues: a Categorized Research Bibliography’, The Norwegian Defence University College, 2010, PDF here.
  • Harrell et al, ‘The Status of Gender Integration in the Military: Analysis of Selected Occupations’, RAND Corporation, 2002, available here.
  • Major J. Rogers, ‘Gender Integration in the New Zealand Infantry’, US Army Command and Staff College thesis, 2001, available here.
  • Nuciari, ‘Women in the Military: Sociological Arguments for Integration’, Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research, 2006, available here.
  • Lindstrom et al, ‘The Mental Health of U.S. Military Women in Combat Support Occupations’, Journal of Women’s Health, 2006, available here.

After a decade of Afghanistan and Iraq, I’m sure we’ll see more Australian-based research emerging. Until then, some valuable thoughts from Canadian military delegation member, Lieutenant Colonel Jennie Carignan:

“The (main) lesson learned from our integration adventure is that operational effectiveness is only related to leadership and the actions of the leader. We had this twisted around, and this was another message we had for the ADF: Operational effectiveness has nothing to do with the gender of the folks composing your force.”


Image by Gary Ramage, courtesy of

This entry was posted in ADF, Australia, Women in combat by Natalie Sambhi. Bookmark the permalink.

About Natalie Sambhi

Natalie Sambhi is co-editor of Security Scholar. She is currently a Research Fellow at the Perth USAsia Centre, a think tank based at the University of Western Australia. She was formerly an Analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Managing Editor of The Strategist. She is a Hedley Bull Scholar and graduate of the Australian National University.

2 thoughts on “Blame Canada! On women in combat and research

  1. “Operational effectiveness has nothing to do with the gender of the folks composing your force.”

    That is definitely my experience as well. I have platoons (reconnaissance and infantry) in Iraq and Afghanistan with women in them. In the Danish army all branches are open to women if they can comply with the same physical standards as their male peers.
    The problem as I see it is how we treat the women: the right way is not to give in to unequal physical standards and other special criteria for recruiting more women or any other special personnel groups.

    • The appalling stupidity of the Canadian lady general’s remarks are beyond belief by anybody with a scintilla of combat experience!

      Unlike many of the talking heads who pursue this self-indulgent nonsense I actually have quite a lot of active service. If anybody reading this wants details of that they can PM me, I’ll be happy to talk with them.

      My experience of combat has left me with some insight into the sheer physical effort of being an infantry soldier. Couple that with the extended time actually deployed on ops plus the strain of contact with the enemy & I have come to the conclusion that war is no business for most men, let alone women!

      Leaving aside the sheer immorality of putting your women folk in combat, the physical effort, the dirt, the wounds & sickness, the fear, the sheer horror unfolding all about you is enough to to keep most ladies out. So why waste eye watering amounts of money trying to get a tiny minority of females who like to wear combat gear, to be force fed into the infantry.

      Oh yes I know that war has been made less physical, BS I say, that can only come from commentators who haven’t been there. It may be all robots & forklifts in camp, but out in the field it’s still muscles & backs. Sure women can work hard, but not in the way an infantryman humps his ruck, a gunner manhandles shells , etc it’s in the upper body strength that the ladies just never develop.

      Real life experience of war should inform even the most PC & dense that close combat is not something we as societies should be urging our young women to get involved in.

      A luta continua!


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