Home CFB Borden CFB Borden Celebrates Women in the CAF

CFB Borden Celebrates Women in the CAF

Personnel participating in the Speed Mentoring during International Women's Day at Canadian Forces Base Borden on 06 March 2024 (Corporal Marco Tijam/Canadian Forces Base Borden, Base Imagery)

Celebrating International Women’s Day on CFB Borden was both informative and impactful

On 6 March 2024, CFB Borden celebrated International Women’s Day with a day of yoga, mentorship and conversation outlining the unique changes and challenges that women in the CAF face during their service.

At 0900 hrs, CFB Borden’s Command Team participated in a group yoga session at the Buell Gym. In the Waterloo Officer’s Mess that afternoon, members met with Commanding Officer of the 400 Tactical Helicopter Squadron (400 THS) Lieutenant Colonel Sarah Lemay who spoke about her experience as member, mother and military spouse.

“International Women’s Day has always been a challenge for me,” LCol Lemay said. “An internal conflict between why we need a day to focus on women, but also the fact that representation matters.”

LCol Lemay was grateful to be given the opportunity to reach so many ears. She offered insight into how she has battled with supressing her own femininity to “fit in” and explained how certain policies have become unintended gender barriers, such as the permanent resident policy, maternity dress policy, the sizing of uniforms and field equipment and postnatal healthcare.

“These policies do leave us feeling like if we had a different gender, this would be easier.” Said LCol Lemay. Sometimes we even question: ‘Is this the right place for me?’.”

With these drawbacks, however, came other benefits according to LCol Lemay who attested her success to the help of allies and advocates believing in her style of leadership.

“As women, I feel that we often dismiss our differences, perspectives and approaches, but they are often so very effective,” said LCol Lemay. “Ultimately, what I think has worked for me is being my authentic self. Vulnerability and compassion are not flaws. Assertiveness and confidence is not disrespectful.”

Representation was a key theme of the speech, touching on policy, practice and culture in Canada’s military.

“My utopia is a day that we don’t need to specifically celebrate groups of people and that all of us would have a representation to just simply be part of the team, part of the decision and that policy would be made equitable for all,” LCol Lemay said.

Before opening the room up for further discussion, LCol Lemay left all attendees with a challenge.

“Be an ally and an advocate – not all of us are as comfortable with our gender than we are,” said LCol Lemay. “Biases still exist and will need to be identified to be changed. Policies still have unintended consequences… Ask questions, don’t assume that we know what is right for others, avoid projecting ourselves and rather lead with empathy and understanding.”

The conversation broke out into a question-and-answer period with members asking LCol Lemay about her experience as a woman serving in the CAF and how it has changed over the years. Others inquired about the intersection of being a leader in the CAF and a mother at home.

Following the question period, female members were asked to join a mentorship session where groups of mentees had a chance to speak with different female mentors who hold leadership positions in the CAF.

The sessions provided both an outlet and a safe space for the unique experiences of these women to be heard and given potential solutions or guidance.

On this day, CFB Borden recognized the contributions of women to the CAF and the challenges that members are faced with in navigating gender differences, barriers and privileges.

International Women’s Day is a global day to recognize and celebrate women’s and girls’ social, economic, cultural and political achievements. It’s also a time to raise awareness of the progress made towards achieving gender equality and the work remaining to be done.

By: Caleb Hooper