The 2024 Women in Uniform Symposium

Of the celebrate International Women’s Day, one hundred members from the Canadian Armed Forces gathered together in March at the second annual Women in Uniform Symposium. The symposium was hosted by the Rear Admiral Christopher Robinson and Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia acted as Honorary Patron.

“It was inspiring to be in a room with so many strong women and to hear about their achievements while also discussing strategies for advancing gender equality in the Canadian Armed Forces,” said the Honourable Janet Austin, “I consider a great privilege to be Honorary Patron to the symposium, and to spend International Women’s Day with such accomplished, incredible women in service.”

Recognizing low female representation in the service and barriers to retention, the Honourable Janet Austin and Vice Admiral Angus Topshee, started the Women in Uniform Symposium to create a safe space in which women in uniform could gather to express the challenges they face in their everyday work through systems that are outdated, gaps in policy, and organizations that reinforce inequality.

“This year the defence team chose the theme ‘inspire inclusion’ for International Women’s Day,” said Rear Admiral Christopher Robinson. “The 2024 Women in Uniform Symposium did exactly that with 100 of the most inspiring members of Joint Task Force Pacific spending two days together working on making our formation the most inclusive and welcoming workplace possible.”

The symposium was a stark reminder to women in the Canadian Armed Forces that they are not alone and that in the face of adversity, unity is important.

“While this year’s WIU Symposium presented slightly different than last year, with the invitation of our male peers (16%) to join the conversation, the camaraderie and empathetic understanding continued to embody the vision of commitment to and dedication for our cultural evolution,” said panellist Chief Petty Officer First Class Susan ‘Sue’ Frisby. “Many speakers and participants spoke of the cultural wrongs and habitual insensitivities of the past (and present), yet with conviction and fortitude there was determination amongst all to do and be better. Participants were able to recognize no one is alone, the allies in the room (friend, peer, subordinate, superior) will walk alongside each other, advocating for the possibility of a future of equality and equity.”

Over the course of two days, through open discussions and collaboration, participants discussed the following themes: lived experiences, shared experiences and tools to confront gender bias, building networks for mutual support, and confronting barriers and challenges.

“I’m very grateful to have participated in the 2024 Women in Uniform Symposium, both as a panellist and as a member of the audience,” said panellist, Lieutenant Commander Jacqueline Forbes. “The speakers and attendees were all so inspiring! Overall, it felt like we were able to achieve a healthy balance between highlighting the progress that has been made, while acknowledging the fact that we must continue our efforts towards achieving gender inclusion and equality.”

“It was a privilege to speak at the Maritime Forces Command Pacific International Women’s Day Symposium,” said speaker, Commander (retired) Sally Torani. “The event saw an array of speakers, all of whom shared their unique and insightful perspectives on the importance of inclusion. In a time where we see violence and human rights abuses against women all over the world, the significance of International Women’s Day cannot be overstated. Events such of these remind us to remain vigilant and continue to push for true inclusion of women in all areas where decisions are made.”

Although the discussions were complex and solemn, there was an emphasis on creating lasting relationships of support and camaraderie within and across ranks.

“What moves me the most about the event is the moments of vulnerability from the participants which really helps shape the events narrative,” said lead planner, Captain Patricia Laing. “Female representation within the Canadian Armed Forces remains at the tokenism status of 16.48%, coming together to have our voices collectively heard is quite impactful.”