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Do we need quotas or goals for women in the combat arms?

Today, the Canadian Forces are obliged to pay attention to the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms as well as other various pieces of employment equity legislation, and so they should. No one, of sound mind and reasoning, objects to this notion provided the military's operational effectiveness is not impaired. In 1996, however, the Army took an unprecedented step and introduced quotas or goals regarding the number of women to serve in the combat arms. This action contributed to a growing sense that the operational effectiveness of the Forces was suffering because of "...hyper-sensitivity to Human Rights issues (which) has created an air of paranoia at all rank levels."

Clearly, insistent demands from women, visible minorities, disabled persons, gays, environmentalists, consumers, nationalists and aboriginal peoples, among others, have already had an impact on the Canadian military. As Dr. Albert Legault stated in his report to the Prime Minister: "Undoubtedly, while it is desirable for the CF to reflect the broadest cultural diversity possible, it is also important not to put the interests of minorities ahead of the operational effectiveness of the Forces or, if we do, it must be acknowledged that there will be a huge cost to pay."

Perhaps the most significant impact on the operational effectiveness of the Army, however, is the introduction of quotas or goals for women in the combat arms which may trace its origin to 5 February 1987. On this date, the Minister of National Defence announced the creation of an office to conduct Combat Related Employment of Women (CREW) trials in selected units representative of all of the combat units (e.g. infantry, armoured corps, field artillery, air defence artillery, signals, field engineers and naval operations) to determine "...if and when remaining mixed-gender restrictions could be lifted without reducing operational effectiveness."

Before the empirical evidence could be gathered, however, and in spite of the Government's statement in 1986 that "...(it) shall vigorously pursue this policy (expanding the role of women in the CF) in a manner consistent with the requirement of the Armed Forces to be operationally effective in the interests of national security," the Canadian Human Rights Commission tribunal decided otherwise. On 20 February 1989, it directed the CF to stop conducting the CREW trials and remove any employment restrictions based on gender (with the exception of employment of women in the current Oberon class submarines).

Without any Canadian studies to either support or refute allowing women into the combat arms and how this might affect the military's operational capability, the military's senior leadership, in their lemming-like approach to political correctness, supported the tribunal's decision regardless of the potential consequences on operational effectiveness and morale. This situation persists even to this day. Witness, for example, the Army's current human resources officer who supports the current policy on the integration of women, though seemingly oblivious to the consquences, but who, in 1988, stressed the need for an approach to a Total Force-One Army (composed of regular force and reserve personnel) concept, provided it "...(would) satisfy the requirements of both operational effectiveness and morale (emphasis mine)."

The senior leadership's support was also made in spite of several completed studies and the lessons learned in war by other nations who have experimented with women in combat roles and have decided to no longer allow them to fill such positions.

Ironically, in spite of the tribunal's decision, there was no vast influx of women who wished to join the combat arms. This should not have come as a surprise. After all, a DND/CF publication dated 1986 showed that those armed forces which did not have restrictions on the employment of women had, generally speaking, a lower percentage of women actually serving in their military. Three NATO countries, Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway, for example had 3.8 per cent, 1.4 per cent and 1.2 per cent respectively. Another DND/CF document, published in 1986, also showed: "the attrition of servicewomen in the CF might be slightly higher than for men if additional field units and surface ships were changed to mixed gender units."

Similarly, since these restrictions have been lifted in Canada, no one has been able to argue that thousands of women have been clamouring to join the combat arms but were being held back by male chauvinism. In fact, positions slated for women are being left vacant and, in many cases, those enrolled into the combat arms quickly reclassify when afforded the opportunity to do so or they simply quit. As a result, there are now approximately 66 women in the combat arms, representing only 0.6 per cent of the soldiers in those trades.

This dearth in the number of women desiring to join, as opposed to women having access to, the military and especially the combat arms, has now become

the issue. Thus, as early as December 1994, the Chief of the Defence Staff authorized a nine-point action plan designed to encourage greater gender integration and by the same token greater enrolment of women into the CF. This plan, called "Op Minerva", along with a bastardised critical mass concept of the defunct CREW trials, formed the basis from which the Army's senior leadership decided, in December 1996, to establish recruiting quotas or goals for women in the combat arms: "This order calls for achieving a critical mass of 25 per cent women on future QL3 combat arms serials."

This decision begs the following questions: Why do we need such quotas or goals? Has anyone been able to argue cogently that the integration of a critical mass of women into the combat arms is being done for reasons of military necessity? Is there a shortage of young males in the unemployment lines? Or, in the words of Barbara Amiel, "...are (we) integrating the forces purely for ideological reasons."

Along the same line, why does the Army need to pursue such a quota concept when " reviewing the Human Rights Tribunal and the Board's commentaries during the past five years, it is clear that there has been a clear rejection of these tactics by all parties?" This situation is further compounded by the fear that setting goals or quotas for the Army will not make it become a more tolerant and representative institution.

Setting quotas or goals may, in fact, sow the seeds encouraging our servicemen and women to identify themselves more according to their gender rather than with the Canadian Forces at large. This policy also runs the risk of encouraging our servicemen and women to no longer see the big picture. Instead, they will perceive the CF simply as a means to further their own self-interests and this will have a negative effect on the CF's operational effectiveness and morale. The military will have, in the words of the now famous British LGen Sir Hew Pike, "surrendered any claim to be a warfighting force."

It is also ironic that the Army should feel the need to adopt such tactics when "the Canadian Forces are already world leaders in terms of proportions of women in the military and the number of areas in which they can serve."

I would also posit that Canada's servicemen and women don't want quotas or goals. They want to be treated as individuals, equal in terms of basic rights and freedoms, but unequal based on ability and drive. From a military perspective, therefore, it does not need quotas or goals because it does not have to be "...a representative cross-section, or accommodate all the alternative lifestyles (or gender) tolerated in civilian life. The main requirement is that it should be effective, and representative only to the extent that this contributes to its efficiency."

This view was echoed by Gen (ret'd) Paul Manson, a former Chief of the Defence Staff when he stated: "We are genuinely doing our best to live up to the letter and spirit of the law respecting human rights...We live in a rapidly changing world, and this department must be flexible and dynamic in responding to modern trends towards a fair and just society. But our response has to be tempered by the uniqueness of the critically important job we have to perform. We're not a social laboratory, but rather an instrument, a practical mechanism for maintaining the freedom in which social change can take place."

Aside from the questions the Army's quota or goal concept raises, there remains the issue of the actual percentage of women sought by the military senior leadership to join the combat arms. Why, for instance, should they have aimed for 25 per cent when the 1979-84 SWINTER trials, used to determine whether additional occupations and units could be opened to mixed-gender employment policies, recommended a maximum of 15 per cent because the full impact of the introduction of women was not known? Or, why 25 per cent women when demographic projections done for the Navy in the early 1990's showed that their own target of 25 per cent women would be unworkable by as early as 1995?

In sum, unrealistic quotas or goals aimed at achieving a critical mass of women in the combat arms will neither enhance its operational effectiveness nor its morale. In fact, it may even prove divisive. But, until the senior leadership comes to the same conclusion, I can only hope, like Burt Harper in his article in the Ottawa Citizen, that the adverse effect of setting quotas or goals "on all those directly concerned may never have to be proven in [a] shooting war."
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Author:Orsyk, George
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Date:Mar 1, 1998
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