The Many Faces of Women’s Equality in Canada

Equality means many things to many people. In Canada, we take for granted equalities that are being fought for in other countries. These include being equal before the law, and having equal access to education, political participation, human rights, and free expression.

Which made me think about my grandmother, pictured here on her horse in the early 1900’s, likely on the family farm in Saskatchewan. I don’t know how much education she got, but Saskatchewan was responding to massive immigration by building schools as quickly as possible, with the goal of educating children until they were age 14. It was likely in one of those schools that my grandmother learned to read and write. Unlike many immigrants to Saskatchewan, my grandmother’s family were already English speaking. This would have insulated them from the discrimination other ethnic groups experienced.

When she married in 1909, she would have had the  same legal capacity as men under the Married Women’s Property Act of 1907. But she would not get the right to vote in provincial elections there until 1916.

Her career opportunities would have been affected by the constraints of a male dominated work society. She took the path of homemaker, perhaps choosing to marry a “town man” rather than a farmer in order to escape farm chores.

World War I changed the role of many women.  Some served in the military in the Canadian Army Nursing Service. Many took over the jobs of the men who were serving overseas. By the end of the war, women had shown that they were much more capable than men had thought they were! Change was in the wind. By 1920, Grandma would have been allowed to vote in federal elections, and could have run for parliament if she had so chosen.

In 1929, women won the right to be recognized as “persons”, which gave them the right to be eligible for an appointment to the Senate, attain a University Degree, enter a profession, and hold public office.

By the time my mother decided to enter the workforce, women had a much larger choice of careers. My mom worked as a music teacher, a clerk in a bank, and in a photo shop. Though the jobs may not seem too exciting by today’s standards, the locale often was. Her bank clerk job was in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, during the construction of the Alcan Highway during the Second World War.

In 1956, the Canadian Government enacted the Female Employees Equal Pay Act. It declared that women are entitled to be paid the same wage as men for similar work. Canada took a first stab at a Human Rights Charter in 1960, but it wasn’t until Canada’s Constitution was brought home in 1982 that Canadians, regardless of colour, religion, race, ethnic origin, sex, age, disability or belief were granted certain fundamental rights that no government can remove without cause.

It is one thing to have laws in place to define equality. It is quite another to enact them. Women continue to lag behind men in workplace equality.  Probably the single biggest reason is that women continue to choose to have children, and this often entails some sacrifice in their or their spouses careers in order to raise these children.

We act like that is a bad thing, but let’s get real here. Children have certain fundamental rights too, and their parents should be the ones charged with providing them with the care and support needed to raise them. If both parents think their careers are more important than their children, then they probably shouldn’t have had children in the first place… I’m all for women’s liberation and gender equality. I just don’t want to see the children get trampled in the morning rush to the office.

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2 thoughts on “The Many Faces of Women’s Equality in Canada

    • A few years ago I was contacted by a person who believed we were related. We exchanged some information, and came to the conclusion that his grandmother was my grandmothers sister. He scanned some old photos and sent them to me. His photos were the rest of the roll of film that was taken the day that my grandmother was photographed on the horse. My grandmother was in some of his photos. His grandmother was in some of my photos. I’m sure these two women would never have believed that their grandchildren would some day meet, for the very first time, through a thing called the internet.

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