The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is stepping up its drive for more female recruits, with information sessions being held around the country.
The sessions focus on leadership opportunities in particular, although restrictions on women serving in combat roles were substantially lifted in 2016.
Women make up slightly less than 18 per cent of all ADF personnel.
By 2023, Defence wants that to increase to 25 per cent in the Navy (RAN) and Air Force (RAAF) - and to rise from 14.3 per cent to 15 per cent in the Army.
The exciting role of an #AusAirForce Air Traffic Controller will have you managing civilian aircrafts one day, then commanding #battlefield aerial environments the next. #ADF https://t.co/5GRRiDGTzO pic.twitter.com/YppHcov3AU— Defence Jobs Aust (@defencejobsaust) June 16, 2019
Some recruitment events, like the Women in Navy Technical Trades Camp at HMAS Cairns, provide hands-on training. Others share information about the fitness levels required to be an Army recruit.
Mentors are also available for women interested in enlisting.
The targeted women's recruitment strategy seems to be paying off.
One third of all recruits last financial year were women, which puts the ADF on track to meet its participation targets.
The ADF closely guards the names of women currently serving in, or training for, combat and security roles.
According to a Defence spokesperson, this is “to ensure they have an equitable environment in which to succeed and to avoid placing them under additional pressure.”
While Australian women on the frontline is a relatively new concept, in Canada it has been accepted practice for 30 years.
Stéphanie Cyr is a Master Warrant Officer in the Canadian Army.
She says gender is largely invisible, even when working in close quarters on overseas deployment.
Now in her 18th year of service, she says that all she wanted when she was growing up, was to be a soldier.
Inspired by movies like Top Gun and Braveheart, working in administration wasn’t what she had in mind.
“When I pictured a soldier in my head, it was an infantryman carrying a rifle, going to the front," she said. "I couldn’t picture anything else. I wanted to serve my country and I wanted to help people.
“I have fairly long hair and it was sticking out of the sleeping bag in our tent in Afghanistan," she recalls. "One of my soldiers walked in and said: 'Hey, who’s the chick?' He’s one of my subordinates - I’d been working with him for months. He just forgot that I was a female.”
Opening combat roles up to women is not without risk - something MWO Cyr knows first-hand
The first time she shot someone, she struggled with her reaction.
"After the fire fight I was relieved - I was happy I was alive," she said.
"You have this sense of relief [then] humour will kick in. I remember struggling with that. I thought I would be more humble. More quiet about finishing combat.
"I was a little disappointed and ashamed of that... but I knew in my head, as a platoon, we had collectively done the right thing."
She says gender made no difference to the behaviour of her soldiers during combat.
"There’s nobody worrying if I’m getting shot at, more than they are about their other team mates."
John Blaxland is a Senior Fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University (ANU). He agrees that the ADF needs more women in front line positions.
“Some of the most effective soldiers of recent years have been women," he said. "Simply because they have been able to access locations and information by talking with local women, which male soldiers haven’t been able to [do].
"You have to ask ‘What’s the objective here?’ It’s not to blow things up, it’s usually to persuade a population to do something."
Doing the right thing is what drives Stéphanie Cyr.
“Do I feel that I made a big difference for Afghanistan? Probably not. But do I feel I made a big difference for that little Afghan community that I stayed at for 10 months? Yeah for sure!
“There were tangible things that we were able do for the community, and so that’s worth it.
"With all the sad things that happen during deployments it's those little things that make you happy, [that] help you move on and carry on.” - Story, Wendy John. Editing, Sue Stephenson