Canada has been shaped by the experience of the women’s movement and women in war. Women’s movement has defined Canada because of suffrage and the Person’s case. This rose feminism and is still something that people strongly believe in today. Feminism believes that both women and men should be treated equally. This statement was overlooked until the late 19th and early 20th centuries.1 Many canadian women tried to build and grow their society by fighting for equal rights.2 For example, the right to vote, to have greater education, more job opportunities, improved labour laws and better healthcare.
3 Moreover, not only were they rejected for basic rights but they were also expected to do non-reasonable things. For example, women were expected to end their jobs once married.4 Furthermore, professions that included medicine, law and engineering were closed to women.5 At the time, they were not considered as a person unless the situation was related to pain or penalties but, there were many flaws in that statement. In modern-day Canada, women are now considered as people and have received the rights that all human-beings deserve. Women such as Emily Stowe had faced rejections and many obstacles to earn women the rights they have today.7 One movement that Stowe lead was the suffrage movement.
She was the first woman to practise medicine in Canada but being the first woman to do this, she faced tons of discrimination.8 Stowe was rejected in Canada and therefore travelled to the United States to finish her degree.9 She wanted to overcome other hurdles, such as the right to run for public office, to be appointed to the senate, and the ability to serve as judges.10 All of this resulted in the suffrage movement. The suffrage movement was an overall movement for women’s rights. Without this movement, Canada could’ve turned out to be much different and men would have taken over politically and economically.
As the movement began to grow, it picked up their early 1900s leaders.11 Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, and Emily Murphy were fighting for women’s right to vote.12 Ontario was the first province to allow some women that were widows or unmarried who owned property, to vote on municipal elections.13 More women also got the right to vote during WW1 and by 1918, some were able to vote in provincial elections in Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.14 During that time, Prime Minister Robert Borden extended the suffrage to most Canadian women and by 1919, women’s right to run for Parliament was recognized.
15 After that, Agnes Macphail became Canada’s first female member of Parliament in 1921.16 In 1935, Martha Black who was in Yukon, got elected and became the second female MP.17 Women continued to protest and march for changes in employment practices, life choices and politics. The effort of the suffrage movement has shaped Canada by raising awareness of gender equality. Moreover, the Person’s case is also a movement that improved the lives of women and is a significant part of Canadian history.
The Person’s Case was a Canadian Constitutional Case that allowed women to be members of the Canadian Senate18. Therefore, they achieved the same rights as men regarding to political power. This has defined Canada because it meant that women had achieved equality under the law for political appointments and other areas of employment. By the end of 1919, most women in Canada were able to vote. Pushing that aside, women still struggled to be appointed judges and senators. In Alberta, the government had appointed Murphy a police magistrate, making her the first woman judge in the British Empire.
19 A group of women put Murphy’s name forward as a candidate for the Senate but Borden refused as they did not see her as a qualified person.20 This resulted in the movement called the Persons Case, a legal action that took 12 years to solve. The British North America Act of 1867 stated that only a qualified person were allowed to be senators.21 Women, were not considered as a person.
Murphy and four other women came together to take this case to the Supreme Court of Canada in hopes that the act would change.22 Unfortunately, the court also ruled that men were only qualified.23 According to Hoogeveen, the privy councillors noted that “The exclusion of women from all public offices is why the word ‘persons’ should include females, the obvious answer is, why should it not?”24 This all changed on October 18, 1929 when the privy councillors overturned the Supreme Court decision and stated that Canadian women were now considered as a person.25 Overall, Canada’s history has been significantly defined by the women’s movement who fought for gender equality.
Without the women who made their voices be heard, gender equality would still be something that is not supported. Women’s movement has also defined Canada by their legal rights. Some legal rights include the right to vote, birth control, access to abortion and gender equality. Women today are protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.26 This ensures that women are free of discrimination in the fields of provincial and federal elections, property owning, wages and being qualified as a person.27 It has shaped Canada by allowing women to have the same advantages as men. During 1914, voting was not a right for everyone.
According to Hoogeveen, Irene Parlby stated that “If politics mean the effort to secure through legislative action, better conditions of life for the people, greater opportunities for our children and other people’s children then it most assuredly is a woman’s job as much as it is a man’s job.”28 Things have changed dramatically when the Canadian Human Rights Act ensured that women were no longer to be discriminated because of sex, race, religion, or sexuality.29 This occured during 1977 and the case included five women who helped Canada see women as equally as men. Murphy was known to play a significant role in establishing women’s right.
She fought for women to be considered as a person when it came to rights and privileges.30 Moreover, McClung also played a significant role in getting women the right to vote. But other than allowing women to have the right to vote, there were many other problems. Birth control, for example, was one of them. Under the 1892 Criminal code, it was illegal to sell, buy or use any medicine and device that prevented a pregnancy.31 Birth control at the time, was illegal. With this law, people and groups were outraged, for example, “Planned Parenthood”.
The responses of this law made the federal government allow the birth pill only in 1961. But, even with this law, doctors were not encouraged to give this pill to prevent pregnancy. They were encouraged to only give it for health purposes.32 This all changed when the omnibus bill was introduced, saying that all birth control methods, including the birth pill, were legalized.33 This shaped Canada because it allowed women to have 100% control of their own bodies and that their decisions aren’t being limited by the government. Additionally, the 1892 Criminal code stated that abortion was illegal at the time.
34 This resulted in thousands of women dying due to unsafe and illegal abortion procedures.35 This law was another way of discriminating women and limiting their rights. Due to this, the omnibus bill in 1969 stated that abortion was only legal if the reason was justifiable.36 Many people thought this was wrong, a big supporter of that was Doctor Henry Morgentaler. Morgentaler was a strong believer in women being able to have complete control of their own bodies and therefore, openly challenged the law.
37 He decided to open up his own abortion clinic in Montreal and later on was jailed in 1973 for that reason.38 After that, court cases, protests and clinics on both sides of the issue followed. Eventually after juries in 12 different court cases, the Supreme court took down the abortion law resulting no legal restrictions on abortions in Canada.39 Access to abortion was another right that women had earned and is why it has defined Canada.
Adding onto that, Canada has also changed a lot of discriminatory laws against women. During 1956, the federal government stated that it was illegal to pay women less than men for the same work.40 Along with that, during 1955, the government struck down the law that stated women had to give up their jobs once married.41 Many other laws also fell, allowing women to receive the same education and the right to own property as men.42 This opened up new opportunities for women and also changed Canada to believe in gender equality. Canada has also been significantly defined by women in war.
WWI and WWII brought many changes to the country and worldwide. Women working in war were finally recognized for their efforts and perseverance. This gave them new freedoms and improved their rights. Women helped Canada succeed in both wars and helped the countries path to independence. During WWI, women were not allowed to be soldiers, sailors, or pilots.43 Their jobs included nursing, driving ambulances and other jobs with the Red Cross.
44 At the time, 3000 Canadian women applied as nurses and these were the first women to serve the Canadian Armed forces.45 Moreover, around 1000 women served as drivers in the air force.46 With men being out in war, women took over at home. Women were a huge part of WWI because without them, the country would fall economically. Women kept things in shape in their country while the men were out fighting.
Women were willing to work in low conditions with payment as low as half of the normal wages.47 Now, it is illegal to pay women lower than men when they are doing the same type of work. This has defined Canada because it is now a country that supports gender equality. Many women were not satisfied with their traditional role as wives, mothers, and domestic workers.48 The war brought together a community who worked together in organizations.49 Women together began to share different ideas and work for political equality with men.50 During WWII, their actions and efforts were being even more recognized. The war encouraged all women to participate in the workforce.
30 000 women worked in the aircraft industry and at the peak of the war effort, 373 000 women were working in munition factories.51 Within a few years, the number of women bringing home a pay cheque had doubled.52 Women also worked at home to ensure a thriving economy. They produced goods and took care of food.53 Along with that women raised funds to finance hospitals, ambulances, hostels and the aircraft.54 Women in overalls and bandanas on posters and propaganda became a symbol of service to Canada, quoting “We can do it!”.
55 Without women putting in their efforts to both world wars, things could’ve ended much differently. There is a possible chance that Canada wouldn’t have been its own independent nation today and is why women in war is considered important to Canada’s identity.