Military to hire gender specialists for operational advice overseas

Canada's top general plans to hire gender specialists to assist military planners in preparing to fight and operate abroad. Gen. Jonathan Vance says the advisers would be assigned to a central staff headquarters in Ottawa, and also to the military's operational command that oversees all missions at home and abroad.

A look at vulnerable populations essential to military planning, top general says

Gen. Jonathan Vance was installed as the chief of defence staff in July. He says gender specialists will be valuable when the military interacts with vulnerable civilian populations. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Canada's top general plans to hire gender specialists to assist military planners in preparing to fight and operate abroad.

In an interview with CBC News, Gen. Jonathan Vance said the advisers would be assigned to a central staff headquarters in Ottawa, and also to the military's operational command that oversees all missions at home and abroad.

Vance said the advisers would not necessarily be women, and wouldn't advise exclusively on questions of gender.

"You're looking at vulnerable populations — populations that are sometimes invisible to military operations: women, children, the infirm and so on," Vance said.

"It's an operational staff approach, where just like one would have a legal adviser, an adviser on other sort of specialist activities … and the gender advisers' role is to work with their staffs in a similar approach to how a lawyer would, to make certain that at the very beginning of a planning cycle, at the very essence of how your plan comes together, that you look at vulnerable populations."

NATO approach

The approach is already in use at NATO headquarters, which is where Vance said he first encountered it.

Vance is a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan, and he said the idea resonates with him. In Afghanistan, commanders were used to thinking about the physical terrain and the composition of the enemy force, but the human terrain was sometimes overlooked.

"Anyone who served there realized that you're really only working with half the population," Vance recalled. "When you're trying to address matters of social, political and economic fabric of a nation and sort of reweave that fabric, to really leave untouched in many ways half the population puts us at a disadvantage."

An adviser might ensure a military team sent out to clear houses or run a vehicle checkpoint includes sufficient numbers of female soldiers to handle women and children encountered on the operation. The role would also assist in planning engagement operations among the local population and gaining feedback from those more vulnerable populations.

"Someone is sitting there thinking about joint fires, you now, how to manage fire power, someone is thinking about communications, someone is thinking about manoeuvre, someone is thinking about logistics," Vance said.

"We're going to have someone thinking about, and bringing to the table, gender issues. And I think it's going to be a positive right off the bat, and I will work over time to professionalize it."

The advisers will have no role in advising soldiers here in Canada how to manage their forces and are not related to the military's response to the Deschamps report on sexual misconduct in the military.

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