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Canadian women in the Persian Gulf War

A service woman in the Persian Gulf region in 1991.
Department of National Defence
The Persian Gulf War began on Jan. 16, 1991. It was the first conflict in which Canadian women in the Canadian Armed Forces could serve in combat roles. And it was a crucial milestone in women’s rights, increasing female military recruitment rates in Canada and supporting the idea that female Canadian soldiers, sailors and aircrew could perform just as well as their male counterparts. It had been a long time coming. The CAF had opened almost every military trade to women only a couple of years earlier.

After Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, the U.S. launched Operation Desert Shield, which included a buildup of military assets in the region and a naval blockade in the Persian Gulf in hopes of stymying a further Iraqi advance into oil-rich Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council passed several resolutions, including a trade embargo, focused on forcing Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait.

Canada supported both and a Royal Canadian Navy task group bolstered the embargo forces. Now open to both sexes, women in the CAF were quick to prove themselves in their newfound roles.

By mid-January, however, Iraq hadn’t budged. Then on Jan. 17, a U.S.-led military coalition, including Canada, launched Operation Desert Storm, a five-week air operation and ground offensive against Iraqi command that concluded with the liberation of Kuwait.

Canadian women played vital roles throughout the conflict, serving in the air task group, the regional headquarters, 1 Canadian Field Hospital and onboard ships.

Today, 16.48 per cent of the CAF’s personnel are women, one of the highest rates of female military participation among NATO nations. It aims to have women make up a quarter of its strength by 2026. As of now they are not on track to meet that goal.


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