Journalist, Diplomat, Entrepreneur & Author

International Women’s Day

Pamela Wallin Speech on International Women’s Day

Strength Through Diversity
National Defence Headquarters Event
March 8, 2010

Pamela Wallin Giving SpeechWomen constitute half the world population, perform nearly 2/3 of its work hours, and receive 1/10 of the world’s income and still own less than 1% of the world’s property – according to a report from the UN.

Less statistical but probably more accurate, is a recent survey of women in so-called power jobs, who advised that “to be successful, you have to think like a man, act like lady and work like a dog.”

Funny, but true – although we hope starting to change.

Many of the attributes considered feminine or female are just what is needed in today’s changing work environment. Attributes like non-linear thinking and multi-tasking!

And we are seeing dramatic changes in education levels. Women make up the majority of full time students in most universities. And are now 61% of all university graduates.

In fact labour force participation for working age women is now at 75 % and women, in greater and greater numbers are setting up business and becoming self employed.

Women are starting small business at twice the rate of men and women’s average income has increased by 17% in the last decade, joining the ranks of management. Last year women represented 40% of this country’s work force.

While many women must work outside the home for economic reasons – we are also working because we want to.

Personal fulfillment is part of the whole calculation – but this has real and profound implications in the work place. While women continue to dominate in many traditional areas like education and health care the numbers are changing dramatically in the world of business.

Even in my own world the current government has the highest percentage of Women in the cabinet — more than 30 %

The House of Commons has 67 women and the Senate has 36 out of 105

Women make up more than half the Canadian federal public service!

As the CAS has noted -the number of women serving in the Canadian Forces 6,800 today, this represents more than 10.8 % of the regular force – and an even higher number among reservists.

This year the theme for international women’s day is: Strong women. Strong Canada. Strong world.

This reflects our belief that increasing women’s participation and opening access to leadership roles will allow women – and girls – to reach there potential.

And we must always remember – as Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Canada is committed to making important Contributions to Women and girls not just here at home but in places like Afghanistan where your efforts have meant that thousands of girls can go to school safely – for the first time.

Today, we know that in failed states and trouble zones around the world, that focusing on women must be the cornerstone of any foreign policy -it’s the right thing to do, and it’s the smart thing because putting micro-finance into women’s hands and educating women is how real change will happen.

It is a meaningful time for women in the Canadian Forces.Pamela Wallin Giving Speech

Women have always played a crucial role in the Forces.
The story of women in defence and security is one of determination and commitment.
Beginning as far back as 1885 during the North West Rebellion, women answered the call to serve as military nurses …traveling across the country to care for wounded soldiers …and clearing the way for the women who would follow them.

And during the First and Second World Wars, thousands of women joined the military.


More than 2800 women serve with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps between 1914 and 1918, with the majority serving overseas in hospitals, on board hospital ships, in several theatres of war and in combat zones with field ambulance units.

World War I also sees the first organization of women in a military capacity other than nursing. Canadian women form paramilitary groups, outfit themselves in military-style uniforms, and undertake training in small arms, drill, first aid and vehicle maintenance in case they are needed as home guards.


At the turn of the 20th century, there were Canadian women who broke new ground as pioneers in the era of flight.

One of those was Eileen Vollick, from Wiarton, Ontario. In 1928, at the age of 19, she became Canada’s first licensed woman pilot. Eileen was a spirited young woman who had to use pillows to see out of the cockpit.

That’s determination!

To put this into perspective 1928 was also the year the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously decides in the famous “Persons Case” that women were not “persons” who could hold public office. In 1929 the British Privy Council will reversed this decision, accorded to the definition of persons including the right to sit in the Senate of Canada.

During the Second World War, the Canadian government recruited over 45,000 women volunteers for full-time military service other than nursing. Women worked as mechanics, parachute riggers and heavy mobile equipment drivers. Women were given paramilitary training in small arms, drill, intelligence, wireless operations, first aid and vehicle maintenance in case they are needed as home guards.

And as we know, not every woman who contributed wore a uniform.

By WWII, Canadian women flew spitfires – and Hurricanes, Mosquitoes and according to them the spitfire was “a real lady’s aircraft!”

As members of the Second World War’s civilian Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA).

They ferried hundreds of thousands of planes from the factories to the Maintenance Units – having guns installed – and then out to the squadrons. Volunteering for the Commonwealth war effort, Marion and Violet were two of 68 civilian women pilots who were part of the 1,245 Air Transport Auxiliary fliers.

Lord Beaverbrook, Great Britain’s Munitions Minister during WWII, recognised the Air Transport Auxiliary’s efforts with these words:

“….. They were soldiers fighting in the struggle just as completely as if they had been engaged on the battlefront.”

Royal Canadian Air Force’s Women’s Auxiliary, later called the Women’s Division (WD) was formed in 1941, by the end of the Second World War their numbers were up to 8% of the overall RCAF personnel. The WD women were employed in administrative, clerical and other comparable types of service employment and their duties expanded as the war progressed.

Many served at British Commonwealth Air Training Plan training stations across Canada. They were clerks, drivers, fabric workers, hairdressers, hospital assistants, instrument mechanics, parachute riggers, photographers, air photo interpreters, intelligence officers, instructors, weather observers, pharmacists, wireless operators, Service Police, while at the same time many were homemakers that kept families together, protecting the home front and the Canadian way of life.

There were many challenges in the WD; women serving their country in such a capacity was a very novel and new idea.

The Women’s Division were only offered two-thirds of a man’s salary, based on the rationale that it took three women to do the job of two men. Later, as the war progressed and the WD’s value was recognised their pay was boosted to 80 percent, then on the basis that women did not serve in combat.

Women’s service within the military was disbanded following the war, but once again in 1950-1953 they were needed. Women were again recruited for military service when military personnel are committed to the Korean War. More than 5,000 women served by 1955.

And it was in 1965 that a government decision is made to continue to employ women in the Canadian military.


Although today’s women still have challenges, working women in general and women within our Canadian Forces certainly have come a long way! And making the same money as their male counterparts, well that’s taken for granted in our modern world and in our modern Canadian Forces.

More and more women have been moving up through the ranks, a new generation of young leaders, joining their male counterparts in leadership roles.

Women like:

  • Wendy Clay who in 1994 became the first woman promoted to the rank of Major-General.
  • Marta Mulkins who became the first woman to serve as captain of a Canadian warship when she took command of HMCS Summerside in 2000.
  • Commodore Jennifer J. Bennett who in 2007 was appointed Commander of the Naval Reserve.

Our women in uniform have accomplished many significant milestones, not only for the evolution of women in the Canadian military but also for the evolution of women’s rights in this country.

You here today, have all established exemplary and ground breaking careers through your determination, through your commitment and through your leadership.

Today, you are defending the Canadian values of freedom, rule of law, democracy and the right for women to equally participate in society – on our frontlines around the world.

We thank you for your service and sacrifice and we are proud of the work you are doing!