Portrait: Brigadier Christine Chaulieu

Brigadier Christine Chaulieu (Photo credit: Christina Mackenzie)

Christine Chaulieu was nominated to the rank of Brigadier, almost on the sly, by the Army on July 19 last year, the first active female soldier in the Army to be appointed to this rank for 26 years and only the fourth1 in the history of the French Army.

Yesterday FOB was able to meet this discreet, sporty and charming woman, promoted after 34 years of a career in intelligence and international relations and who is today head of international activities at the Institute of Higher National Defence Studies (IHEDN). She is just a little ill at ease at the attention she is drawing.

The daughter of a military father, Chaulieu did not intend to follow in her father’s footsteps at all. After graduating with a Master’s degree in applied foreign languages ​​(German and English) in Germany, her thirst for adventure led her to the Bahamas where she worked for three years as a flight attendant for Air Bahamas. But the lack of career prospects, “pursar was about the upper limit“, she laughs, brought her back to France, and she says that she eventually decided a military career could offer her the mobility, advancement prospects and sports opportunities she was seeking.

In 1982, the Special Military School of Saint-Cyr and the École Militaire InterArmes in Coëtquidan were still closed to women, so she tried her luck in the neighbouring school, the military school of the technical and administrative corps2. After this year of schooling she chose the General Staff as her specialty subject, so followed a year of training at the EAM of Montpellier. She climbed up the ranks, notably by becoming France’s first female defence attaché when she was appointed to this post in Denmark in 2005 and then again in Austria in 2013 where she was not only the defence attaché but also the non-resident defence attaché for Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia. This was her third assignment abroad. During her first, in Germany, freshly graduated from the EAM, she met her husband, also a French soldier. A few months after their marriage he was sent to Berlin but she had to stay behind in Baden-Baden, a second lieutenant in the 20th Transport Regiment. “We had to travel 800 km to see each other,” she recalls, “and during the Cold War it was not easy to cross East Germany to go to West Berlin.”

Like her male companions, Chaulieu climbed the ladder, passed the competitive exams. Promoted to Captain in 1990 and transferred to the Directorate of Military Intelligence in Creil from 1993 to 1996, she was head of the activity section at the intelligence coordination centre. But even 15 years into her career she was still asked by a male colleague at the beginning of her studies at the Joint Defence College (now the War College) in 1997 “if I had passed the same entrance exam as him!” she exclaims.

The main difficulty of her career has been to reconcile her professional and her personal lives. Grandparents were very helpful in babysitting her daughter, but she still had to pay “very high child-care costs.” Like many of her male counterparts, she also found herself a geographical bachelor from time to time. Despite these few difficulties, her military career and 12 different assignments have “fully met my expectations.

If she agreed to talk more publicly today it is to demonstrate to young women who might be tempted by the adventure of an Army career that there is a place there for them.

Women in the French Army (Photo credit: French MoD)

According to NATO3 France is the sixth country with the highest rate of active women in its armed forces (15.2%), behind Hungary (20.2%), Latvia (16.2%), Slovenia (16.1%), Greece and the United States (both 15.5%).

Figures from French MoD

Pierre Arnaud, officer at the Human Resources Department of the Ministry of Defence explains: “Occupations held by women in the armed forces are similar to what is observed in the civilian sector. Specialties related to support are the most feminised with the rate of feminisation standing at 40% for human resources management. Conversely, as far as operational specialties are concerned, women account for only 3% of the workforce. As for the feminisation rate of units engaged in external operations, it stood at 8% in 2016, i.e. 1,500 individuals.”

He adds that in 2016, “there were 30 women generals, excluding controllers. Five women will be promoted in 2017. The goal is to reach 7% of women generals by 2019.”

Brigadier Chaulieu’s head-covering had to be made specially for her (Photo credit: Christina Mackenzie)


1 Brigadier Andrée Tourne was appointed on 1/12/1988, the same day as Louise Coppolani (of the corps of commissionaires which at that time belonged to the Army and who was appointed Major General on 1/08/1991). Brigadier Anne-Marie Meunier was appointed on 1/09/1990.

2 Founded in 1977, the EMCTA closed in August 2010 when it was merged with the EMSAM (Military College for Administration and Management) in Montpellier to create a new school: EAM (School of Military Administration) which, itself, closed in 2013.

3 Report: “NATO Committee on Gender Perspectives” 2015