Does Raising the Combat Exclusion Lead to Equality? Measuring the recruitment, retention and promotion of women in Canada and New Zealand’s defence forces


  • Megan MacKenzie Simon Fraser University
  • Eda Gunaydin University of Sydney


This article questions the conventional wisdom in several major militaries that removing the combat exclusion will enhance several aspects of the military for women, including their recruitment, retention, and promotion rates. We provide newly collated data from the Canadian and New Zealand Defence Forces, measuring these presumed positive impacts, to show that progress on these fronts has been only incremental despite high expectations. In doing so, we trace the rationale that underpins the policy, arguing that the removal of the exclusion is guided by an already-critiqued strain of critical mass theory which assumes that gendered institutions can be altered and improved through low-intervention reforms. This rationale, we argue, leads to unreasonable policy expectations, a gap between expectation and reality that can only be bridged by paying attention to the empirical data. Not doing so may reduce the motivation for military leaders to pursue rigorous policy solutions to attaining gender equality.

Author Biography

Megan MacKenzie, Simon Fraser University

Megan is Professor and Simons Chair in International Law and Human Security in the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University. Her research is broadly aimed at reducing war; it bridges feminist theory, critical security studies, and critical/post development studies. Megan has contributed research on topics including sexual violence in war, truth and reconciliation commissions, military culture, images and international relations, and women in combat.