Leveling the field on CAF operations

Captain Welby Thumwood, the gender focal point on Operation REASSURANCE Land Task Force, poses for a photo next to a headquarters sign. (Photo: DND)

Captain Welby Thumwood, the gender focal point on Operation REASSURANCE Land Task Force, poses for a photo next to a headquarters sign. (Photo: DND)

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By Ashley Black, Canadian Joint Operations Command

Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) operations take extensive planning and preparation. For example, planners must consider a number of factors such as logistics, number and type of troops, equipment, supplies, and the environment and culture of the nation where the CAF will deploy. Considering these factors helps to ensure that the operation runs smoothly. However, as situations change during the course of deployments, it is important to constantly monitor and look for ways to improve situational awareness to make the operation more effective.

Gender Focal Points are CAF members who play an important role in doing just that. They are important to have on operations at home or abroad. Gender Focal Points are responsible for helping CAF members recognize the unique needs of individual groups within a local population in an area of operations so that the local population is not considered as one homogenous group. Through the use of Gender Based Analysis Plus (GBA+), an analytical tool, Gender Focal Points not only think about gender, but also ethnicity, language, mobility, income, age and other identity perspectives, and how they might affect the needs of different people. They are also responsible for training their unit members on how to integrate these identity perspectives into their daily tasks.

The Chief of the Defence Staff has made the consideration of gender and other identity perspectives on operations a CAF priority. As a result, there is now a growing network of Gender Focal Points in the CAF; they are present in every deployed CAF operation and Regional Joint Task Force Headquarters.

Gender Focal Points deploy in their primary duty, as they normally would on a military operation, and then serve as a Gender Focal Point as a secondary duty. They use GBA+ to conduct cultural and societal research about their area of operations. For example, they remain aware of local legislation, demographics, societal roles and relationships and other factors to develop a deeper understanding of the local culture. If possible and necessary, they engage and/or encourage dialogue with local citizens to better understand their needs. By identifying these diverse needs of the population, GFPs support the achievement of the mission goals and help to improve the effectiveness of the operation.

For example, if CAF personnel deployed on a humanitarian assistance operation are giving out water and food to local citizens, the GFP plays a very important role in researching, identifying and communicating how various demographic groups of the population are being affected by this action. Past humanitarian assistance situations have shown that many women and children who receive water and food are later robbed of these items by perpetrators while walking back to their accommodations. The benefit of employing a GFP in a situation like this is that they help to identify these problems so they can be fixed. By having the responsibility of conducting research and speaking with members of the community to learn about and identify these types of issues, GFPs can then speak with other CAF members on the operation about how to improve this situation. For example, the options of changing the location and timing of food distribution to make it safer for women and children, and/or the addition of security, could be discussed and put into place.

“The deployment of Gender Focal Points acknowledges that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to military operations,” says Lieutenant-Colonel Hanson, Gender Advisor of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, “To have the largest positive impact on affected people requires an understanding of what they are all experiencing. Gender Focal Points are the ‘eyes and ears’ who proactively seek out this information and make sure it is applied to the operation.”

Despite the presence of Gender Focal Points, the task of integrating identity perspectives into CAF operations is the responsibility of all CAF members. The intent is to have every CAF member trained on GBA+ so everyone uses it in their daily tasks. In the meantime, GFPs are leading the way.

GBA+ is used across all departments of the Government of Canada. However, deployed CAF Gender Focal Points have the distinct experience of applying GBA+ in their area of operations and seeing faster, more tangible results.

“It’s our duty as Canadian Armed Forces members to promote Canadian values,” says Lieutenant-Colonel Hanson. “At times, it does take courage to apply GBA+ because there are always sensitivities to local culture that we must consider, but using GBA+ supports the positive long term peace and security goals we want to achieve.”

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