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Women in the Gulf War


To increase youth awareness and understanding of the evolution of the role of Canadian women in the military, and develop an understanding of an important milestone that was accomplished during the 1990-1991 Gulf War.


Through this activity, youth will:

  • learn about the changing role of women who served in military uniform throughout Canadian history;
  • learn that Canadian women first served in combat roles in 1990-1991 Gulf War;
  • express in writing their feelings regarding this important chapter in our history.

Target audience

This activity is suitable for ages 8-12

Sequence of events and anticipated time frame [variable]

(This activity can be modified to fit available time)

  • Discussion (10 minutes)
  • Writing letters home activity (30 minutes)
  • Presentations (30 minutes)
  • Wrap-up discussion (20 minutes)



Before you begin this lesson, you may wish to read the Canadian Armed Forces and the Gulf War History Sheet, to use as background information about the 1990-1991 Gulf war.

Start the lesson by showing Canadian women and war, a short Remembrance Moments video (2 minutes), giving an overview of the evolving role of Canadian women in our armed forces over the years. Then, highlight key information found in the document Canada Remembers Women in the Canadian Military, to help students better understand the evolving role of women throughout Canadian military history, until the 1990-1991 Gulf War, when Canadian women first served in combat roles. You can refer to some key points shown below. The focus does not have to be on the numbers, but you could point out that women have been involved in the Canadian military for a long time, and their roles have changed and expanded over the years.

-More than 2,800 Canadian Nursing Sisters served with the Canadian Army Medical Corps during the First World War.

-Approximately 4,500 Canadian nurses were attached to all three branches of Canada’s military during the Second World War.

-Canadian women would also serve in other military roles during the Second World War, with some 50,000 who eventually enlisted in the air force, army and navy, but although they performed very important roles, women did not have combat roles then.

-With the unification and modernization of the Canadian military in the late 1960s, the doors finally began to open for good for women to enlist and enter non-traditional roles.

-The first time Canadian women saw combat roles was during the 1990-1991 Gulf War, in the Middle East.

-Today, women deploy on combat missions, captain vessels and command flying squadrons—their career paths as open as those of men.

Explain to your students that the 1990-1991 Gulf War is an important milestone for women in the Canadian military. The Gulf War marked the first time that female Canadian Armed Forces members performed combat duties. It was especially challenging for these trail-blazing women because they were serving in conservative Middle Eastern countries, where traditional gender roles are very different than in Canada. Today, women represent approximately 15% of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Writing letters home activity

Ask your students to put themselves in the shoes of a Canadian serving in the Gulf War in 1990-1991 and writing a letter home, reflecting about the fact that women and men are, for the first time in our history, serving in the same combat roles. Show them four photos taken by Canadian Armed Forces during the war to offer a visual; students could add one of the photos in their letter home.

The letter could start like this and include a paragraph or two about the weather, the food, the free time; the important part of the letter writing is to have your students express their opinion about the fact that men and women serve as equals in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Somewhere in the Middle East, February 1991

Dear (mom, dad, etc.)

I can’t tell you exactly where I am (military secret!) but I can say that I am writing this letter from (a bunker in the desert; an air base in Qatar; an hospital in Saudi Arabia; a ship in the Persian Gulf).

The food here is...........and the weather is.............

During my free time, (we don’t have too much free time as we get up early, train and work hard all day and have meetings in the evening), but I like to…

Did you know that we are making history here in the Gulf War? Yes! For the first time, Canadian women served, with men, in combat roles. I think that having men and women perform military duties as equals means…

Big kiss to everyone back home, and don’t forget to (for example, clean the fishbowl once in a while)…!


Have some students or the whole group read their letters to the class, or share in small groups.

Wrap-up discussion

Lead a discussion about the changing role of women in the Canadian military over the years. It took many years for the women in Canada to have the same opportunities as men in the armed forces. What do your students think about it? Are there others areas where our society could be more inclusive? You may conclude the lesson by showing the video Women in the Canadian Military - A Generational Success, produced by the Canadian Armed Forces. This promotional video (3 minutes 05 seconds) highlights the evolution of roles of women in our military history.

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