Canadian Armed Forces Celebrate International Women’s Day

On the bench and in retirement, I ceased to become an activist. Apart from the work done by the charities I support, I have lost track of the mainstream women’s movement and of the progress (or not) of women in sectors other than the law profession and the judiciary. I am aware that sexual assault and domestic violence are still with us. Grandmothers carry the ball after the devastation of AIDS in Africa. And women’s issues have broadened to the demand for equality and diversity.

International Women’s Day serves a very useful purpose. Set aside as March 8th since 1911, it is intended to celebrate the achievements of women and promote further equality. On Thursday night, I attended a Women’s Day celebration sponsored by the 4th Canadian Division/Joint Task Force Central of the Canadian Armed Forces, which has its headquarters at the Downsview military base in Toronto. The event was held at the Canadian Forces College, located at Yonge Boulevard and Wilson Avenue in Armour Heights.

It was my first exposure in a long time to current developments in the women’s movement and I left invigorated, rejuvenated, and optimistic about the future of women in Canada and elsewhere. As the generations have passed, “feminism” has not died. It has morphed into a different expression, in different contexts and, with men on board, it has gone mainstream.

In this one joyous and highly energetic event, I learned so much. I learned that Canada is among the world’s leaders at integrating women into the Canadian military. Although it’s not the total story, google “Canadian Armed Forces – historical milestones of women.” I learned about the Canadian Women’s Foundation which has invested over $40 million in charitable support to over 1200 community programs and to every women’s shelter across Canada since it was founded in 1991. I learned about the G(irls) 20 Summit in Mexico City in 2012. It tracks the G20 summit of world leaders and provides them with input on how to promote economic opportunities for women around the world. All that new knowledge, from one event: mind-blowing.

Equally important, we heard from women who have “broken through” the barriers and are sharing their experience with others.

Claire Charness, a fourth-year student at Wilfred Laurier University, was Canada’s delegate to the 2012 G(irls) 20 Summit. Three years ago, Claire would have been petrified to speak in public. Having attended the summit, she has found her voice. She spoke about how personal empowerment, gaining confidence, and figuring out one’s own leadership style can make things happen. With these tools, networking and modern technology, small actions can create meaningful change and have an unexpected ripple effect. She now writes on issues affecting women and youth for the online journal Swigg Talk. If Claire is an example of today’s youthful leaders, we can be confident that the torch is in very good hands.

Angela Mondou is Honorary Colonel of the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Technology and Engineering (CFSATE) at Borden, Ontario, President of Canada Company, the national non-partisan charitable organization founded in 2006 to support Canadian military and their families, and a noted national speaker on leadership, marketing and career strategies. She served in the Canadian Forces as a Logistics Officer and, as a Captain, did tours of duty in the First Gulf War and in United Nations missions in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her theme was the need for women to take charge of their own careers, to ask for what they want, take risks, push the envelope to the next level into positions where failure is not an option and into the grey area where you may need to fake it until you make it. The more often you exercise the fear muscle, the stronger it gets and you move ahead. Her book, “Hit the Ground Leading!” is available by writing to angela@iceleadership.com.

Examples from her own career? When the military would not let women be trained as pilots, she took flying lessons on her own and soon became licensed to fly Cessnas. Working in Europe, she agitated for a posting in the “war zone” of the old Yugoslavia and found herself the only woman among 2,200 men in the field. When she retired from the military, she went on to senior positions in marketing for Nortel Networks and then for RIM-Blackberry. She described her efforts to get the Blackberry onto Oprah Winfrey. What should have been easy threw up all sorts of hurdles, including pushback from her own people. But she did it. And Blackberry thrived.

Sass Jordan, a singer and songwriter of hits such as “I Want to Believe,” and “Make you a Believer,” was appointed Honorary Colonel of 417 Combat Support Squadron, Cold Lake, Alberta, in September 2012. She has appeared on Broadway and on television, toured with her music, sang in the SARS relief concert in Toronto and entertained Canadian troops at Station Alert in the high Arctic. The secret of her success? Seeing people as people, focus, guts, defining your goal, being aware that you are not the only one on this planet. She has found that “being one person with an intention makes a huge difference in the world.” She loves story telling, and finds singing a form of story-telling which she can share with others. She knew she had “made it” when her songs showed up being sung at hockey games, and appearing on the back of a ketchup package at McDonald’s. She soon had everyone in the room joining in her song.

With such energy, enthusiasm and experience to draw on, there can be no doubt that women will thrive in the future. As they do so, the rest of the community will thrive with them.

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2 comments

  1. Frances

    Marion, I am always grateful to you for enlightening me. Heartening to know we have made strides, but many more to be taken!

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