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Template:Feminism sidebar The history of feminism in Canada has been a gradual struggle aimed at establishing equal rights between women and men.

Role of women in World War I

During World War I, women took on not only traditionally feminine jobs, but also heavy work such as in amunitions factories. This changed role of women increased women's political prominence, and issues such as women's suffrage were raised. [1]

Women's right to vote in Canada

Widows and unmarried women were granted the right to vote in municipal elections in Ontario in 1884. Such limited franchises were extended in other provinces at the end of the 19th century, but bills to enfranchise women in provincial elections failed to pass in any province until Manitoba finally succeeded in 1916. At the federal level it was a two step process. On Sept. 20, 1917, women gained a limited right to vote: According to the Parliament of Canada website, the Military Voters Act established that "women who are British subjects and have close relatives in the armed forces can vote on behalf of their male relatives, in federal elections." About a year and a quarter later, at the beginning of 1919, the right to vote was extended to all women in the Act to confer the Electoral Franchise upon Women. The remaining provinces quickly followed suit, except for Quebec, which did not do so until 1940. Agnes Macphail became the first woman elected to Parliament in 1921.[2]

Women ruled legally to be "persons"

The Famous Five petitioned the Supreme Court to decide whether women were included in the definition of the word "persons" as used in the British North America Act (Canada's de facto constitution at the time). Hinging on this decision was whether women could be appointed to the Senate or not—the body which approved divorces among other decisions important to women. The Supreme Court, interpreting the Act in light of the times in which it was written, ruled in 1928 that no, women were not "persons" and could not be so appointed.

The five women, led by Emily Murphy, appealed the case to the Judicial Committee of England's Privy Council. In 1929, the five Lords of the Committee ruled unanimously that "the word ‘persons' in Section 24 includes both the male and female sex.…" They called the earlier interpretation "a relic of days more barbarous than ours." [3]

Royal Commission on the Status of Women, 1970

The Royal Commission on the Status of Women was a Canadian Royal Commission that examined the status of women and recommended steps that might be taken by the federal government to ensure equal opportunities with men in all aspects of Canadian society. The Commission commenced on 16 February 1967 as an initiative of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. Public sessions were conducted the following year to accept public comment for the Commission to consider as it formulated its recommendations. Florence Bird was the Commission's chair. The Commissioners appointed were: Florence Bird (chairperson), Elsie MacGill, Lola M. Lange, Jeanne Lapointe, Doris Ogilvie, Donald R. Gordon, Jr (resigned from Commission), Jacques Henripin, John Peters Humphrey (appointed following Gordon's resignation).

National Action Committee on the Status of Women

The National Action Committee (NAC) was formed as a result of the frustration of women at the inaction of the federal government in regards to the recommendations of the Royal Commission. Beginning in 1972 as a coalition of 23 women's groups, by 1986 it had 350 organizational members, including the women's caucuses of the three biggest political parties. Partly funded by government grants, the NAC was widely regarded as the official expression of women's interests in Canada, and received a lot of attention from the media. In 1984 there was a televised debate on women's issues among the leaders of the contending political parties during the federal election campaign. The NAC and women's issues were receiving a lot of attention and the NAC was rapidly growing, although beginning in 1983 it had competition from REAL Women of Canada, a right-wing lobby group.[4]

Canadian Human Rights Act, 1977

Passed by prime minister of the time, Pierre E. Trudeau, The Canadian Human Rights Act gave basic rights to all humans. There was no discrimination based on sex, race, religion, sexuality etc... It specified that there must be "equal pay for work of equal value". There had been significant disparity between the pay received by women and by men. However, by the mid-1980s there was still disparity: full-time female employees earned on average only 72% of what men earned.[1].

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms

After a hard struggle, women's groups managed to have equality of the sexes included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which was part of the Canadian Constitution established in 1982.[1]


In the R. v. Morgentaler case in 1988, Canada's abortion law was struck down by the Supreme Court using the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Bertha Wilson, the first woman on the Supreme Court, had been appointed in 1982.[5][6] Section 287 of the Criminal Code states that abortion is a crime. However, section 7 of the Charter says "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice." Henry Morgentaler, who was trying to establish abortion clinics, forced the courts to rule on this issue, and in 1988 the Supreme Court ruled that section 287 of the Criminal Code was of no force or effect.[7]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Status of Women: 1914-1945". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Foundation of Canada. Retrieved 2008-02-03.
  2. Parliament of Canada. "Women's Right to Vote in Canada". ParlInfo. Retrieved 2008-02-03.
  3. "Famous Five: The "Persons" Case, 1927-1929". Library and Archives Canada. Archived from the original on 2008-01-18. Retrieved 2008-02-03.
  4. Wine, Jeri Dawn; Janice Lynn Ristock (1991). Women and Social Change: Feminist Activism in Canada. James Lorimer and Company. p. 101. ISBN ISBN 1550283561.
  5. Tyler, Tracey (2007-05-01). "Bertha Wilson, 83: First female Supreme Court justice". The Star (Toronto). Retrieved 2010-05-02.
  6. Supreme Court of Canada - Bertha Wilson
  7. Duhaime, Lloyd (2006-10-20). "Abortion law in Canada". Retrieved 2008-03-13. "The issue came to a judicial head in 1988, when the Supreme Court ruled that section 287 of the Code offended section 7 of the Charter, and that the former was therefore of no force or effect (1 SCR 30)."

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