Velma McColl and Kath­leen Monk

The story of Canada’s first 150 years can­not be told with­out the voices of its women: In­dige­nous women who passed on their cul­ture for cen­turies; Euro­pean women who helped set­tle a for­bid­ding land­scape; African-Amer­i­can women who fled slav­ery on the Un­der

Policy - - In This Issue - Velma McColl and Kath­leen Monk

100 Years of Suf­frage: The Next Chap­ters

From the com­fort of our lives to­day, it would be hard for us to imag­ine how revo­lu­tion­ary it was 100 years ago for a woman from south­west­ern On­tario to have mounted a hay wagon and de­manded that a crowd of an­gry farm­ers lis­ten to her vi­sion of their po­lit­i­cal fu­ture. The courage she must have had to even con­tem­plate such a step is breath­tak­ing, for she would have known that her life would be for­ever changed by this sin­gle act of de­fi­ance.

Women in On­tario had only re­ceived the right to vote the year be­fore, and it re­mained con­tro­ver­sial and a threat to the sta­tus quo in 1917.

Yet Agnes Macphail was just 26 when she took the step that changed Cana­dian his­tory. Less than two years later she was a mem­ber of the first farm­ers-led gov­ern­ment in On­tario, and two years af­ter that be­came the first—and for a long time the only— woman mem­ber of the Cana­dian Par­lia­ment.

It was an as­ton­ish­ing de­vel­op­ment for the thou­sands of tough­ened bat­tle veter­ans to re­turn home in the win­ter of 1918-19 to find that women’s roles in fam­ily, in busi­ness and fi­nally in pol­i­tics had been trans­formed in their ab­sence. But it was a long, bit­ter strug­gle that had led to this early vic­tory for greater equal­ity in the Do­min­ion, and one that took un­til 1940, when Que­bec granted women the right to vote, to end even the first chap­ter. It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that Agnes Macphail was pre­ceded by lesser-known he­roes like Emily Stowe, who had to work as a doc­tor on chil­dren’s health il­le­gally–de­spite hav­ing a med­i­cal de­gree—be­cause women were not al­lowed to prac­tise. And Adelaide Hood­less, who launched the Women’s In­sti­tute and fought the dairy in­dus­try to in­sist on healthy pas­teur­iza­tion. And Marie-La­coste Gérin-La­joie who helped found the Fédéra­tion na­tionale Saint-Jean-Bap­tiste and worked for decades on pen­sions, de­cent work­ing con­di­tions and votes for women in Que­bec.

It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that Agnes Macphail was pre­ceded by lesser-known he­roes like Emily Stowe, who had to work as a doc­tor on chil­dren’s health il­le­gally–de­spite hav­ing a med­i­cal de­gree—be­cause women were not al­lowed to prac­tise.

And the strength of western women shone through when, in 1929, the Fa­mous Five, led by Nel­lie McClung, won the bat­tle taken all the way to the Supreme Court to have women de­clared “per­sons.” How bizarre to have taken the op­po­site side on that is­sue, sug­gest­ing that women were “non-per­sons” or chat­tel, not able to par­tic­i­pate fully in democ­racy and de­ci­sions in a coun­try where to­day 50 per cent of the fed­eral cab­i­net is com­prised of women.

And the woman who now graces our $10 bill, Vi­ola Des­mond—the first non-Queen to be granted the hon­our in our his­tory—added the bat­tle for racial and gen­der equal­ity to our story. Des­mond broke the colour bar in a Nova Scotia theatre and was pros­e­cuted for hav­ing failed to pay the ex­tra penny it cost to sit in the ‘whites only’ sec­tion.

The sub­se­quent chap­ters of the strug­gle to es­tab­lish first gen­der and then greater racial equal­ity in Canada are bet­ter known. But on our

150th an­niver­sary as a coun­try, the temp­ta­tion for only self-con­grat­u­la­tion on how far we have come must be tem­pered by recog­ni­tion of the jour­ney still ahead.

It was only a 100 years ago that some women got the right to vote —in­ter­est­ingly, the first group were mil­i­tary wives of men fight­ing over­seas—prob­a­bly with the ex­pec­ta­tion that they would cast their hus­bands’ votes. It was less than 90 years ago that we be­came per­sons. Di­vorce ini­ti­ated by a woman was pos­si­ble only by the 1970s. Free­dom of choice did not come un­til the 1990s for many Cana­dian women.

We can ad­mire the past and our sis­ters who made great strides but we are still far from any­thing ap­proach­ing equal­ity in cor­po­rate board­rooms, se­nior aca­demic and bu­reau­cratic roles, rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the courts and—per­haps most frus­trat­ingly—in any mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil cham­ber, leg­is­la­ture or our own Par­lia­ment.

We can ad­mire the past and our sis­ters who made great strides but we are still far from any­thing ap­proach­ing equal­ity in cor­po­rate board­rooms, se­nior aca­demic and bu­reau­cratic roles, rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the courts and— per­haps most frus­trat­ingly—in any mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil cham­ber, leg­is­la­ture or our own Par­lia­ment. Women of colour and and/or dif­fer­ent sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions still suf­fer less bla­tant but no less re­strict­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion in too many ar­eas of Cana­dian life. In­dige­nous girls are far too of­ten in foster care—more than twice the rate of non-in­dige­nous chil­dren and, in a na­tional disgrace, are far more likely to be vic­tims of abuse and vi­o­lence.

Canada cur­rently ranks 35th out of 144 coun­tries on the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum’s Global Gen­der Gap In­dex, rank­ing lower than Mozam­bique, Bo­livia and Be­larus. De­spite re­cent gains, women MPs in our Par­lia­ment still make up only 27 per cent of the House of Com­mons, mean­ing we are only half­way to half­way in terms of gen­der par­ity. Only 11 women in Cana­dian his­tory have been pre­mier of a prov­ince or ter­ri­tory—and only one other, briefly, our prime min­is­ter. And it’s not that women aren’t in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics, on the con­trary, women voted more than men in the last fed­eral elec­tion.

So, what are the next chap­ters of the march be­gun more than a cen­tury ago by the fa­mous names we know to­day and thou­sands of our grand­moth­ers and moth­ers who waged more per­sonal cam­paigns in kitchens, schools, hos­pi­tals and on fac­tory floors in steady pro­gres­sion? How can we con­tinue to move the dial on is­sues of gen­der, racial and sex­ual equal­ity?

The Daugh­ters of the Vote ini­tia­tive ear­lier this year—fill­ing all 338 seats in the House of Com­mons with women be­tween 18 and 24—showed some mod­ern Nel­lie spirit by re­vers­ing for a few hours the male-dom­i­nated Par­lia­ment that has been the sta­tus quo since Con­fed­er­a­tion. In fact, more women sat in the House that day than have been MPs in Canada’s en­tire his­tory and their voices rang clear and true with sto­ries from their com­mu­ni­ties and con­cerns about eco­nomic and sex­ual free­dom, race, re­spect­ing cul­tural di­ver­sity and pro­tect­ing the planet. It was an his­toric day that proved #ad­dwom­en­change­pol­i­tics.

Afew years ago, 40 per cent of cor­po­rate boards in Canada still lacked a sin­gle woman de­spite a moun­tain of re­search show­ing the ben­e­fits of gen­der-di­verse boards to de­ci­sion-mak­ing and busi­ness per­for­mance. Fi­nally, cor­po­rate lead­ers—men and women— are push­ing to see a min­i­mum of 25 per cent women grace those ta­bles.

Maybe that will hap­pen in this decade, maybe not.

The Trudeau gov­ern­ment has set a tone as an avowedly fem­i­nist gov­ern­ment—ev­ery­thing from an ex­pan­sion of sex­ual assault laws to fi­nally (fi­nally!) call­ing an in­quiry into miss­ing and mur­dered in­dige­nous women and girls, to a for­eign pol­icy fo­cused on eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment and sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive rights, to now build­ing gen­der-based analysis into all gov­ern­ment de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Oh yes, and 50 per cent women in cab­i­net is chang­ing the way that de­ci­sions are made in Centre Block and around Ot­tawa, along with the steely de­ter­mi­na­tion of only the sec­ond and now longest-serv­ing woman as a chief of staff to a prime min­is­ter.

De­spite these strides, pent-up frus­tra­tion among many women has led to quo­tas and bench­marks be­ing called pinkwash­ing – and they have, ap­pro­pri­ately, de­manded more. This is true for women liv­ing in poverty or who are fight­ing for phys­i­cal safety or who are still be­ing paid less de­spite hav­ing the same or bet­ter qual­i­fi­ca­tions than men. They are moth­ers and sis­ters and daugh­ters try­ing to live healthy Cana­dian lives.

One thing we can do is move be­yond the zero-sum men­tal­ity among men that has haunted so many ad­vances over the decades: The be­lief that progress for women dis­places men, that fe­male eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment is some­how a threat to the nat­u­ral or­der of things. Global de­vel­op­ment pol­icy has shifted to un­der­stand that investments in women en­trepreneurs change the fu­ture for­tunes of not only their own fam­i­lies but ul­ti­mately whole com­mu­ni­ties, that this is a build­ing block for a thriv­ing coun­try. All gen­ders have a vested in­ter­est in out­comes like these, so why don’t we em­brace these philoso­phies more fully here at home?

There is no sur­prise that women are dif­fer­ent—as much from each other as from men. We do not speak with a sin­gle voice and cer­tainly do not vote as a sin­gle block. We are not afraid to speak pas­sion­ately—re­gard­less of where we stand on the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum; to solve prob­lems col­lec­tively; to act from a place that con­sid­ers our chil­dren’s fu­ture or, for our in­dige­nous sis­ters, that con­sid­ers the next seven gen­er­a­tions. We know that this changes con­ver­sa­tions in coffee shops, in of­fices and on po­lit­i­cal cam­paign buses, some­times un­com­fort­ably.

Be­ing more than 50 per cent of Canada’s pop­u­la­tion, our voices will only get stronger. And if we thought pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions of Vi­o­las, Ag­ne­ses and Nel­lies were im­pa­tient, there is a gen­er­a­tion of women and girls com­ing who see the world dif­fer­ently, with­out the prej­u­dices, self-lim­it­ing con­structs and bi­ases of ear­lier times. They see – and will de­mand – re­spect for sex­ual di­ver­sity and re­pro­duc­tive rights, more fam­ily-friendly work­ing lives for ev­ery­one, proud equal par­tic­i­pa­tion in a thriv­ing econ­omy and a fu­ture that ad­dresses how we live sus­tain­ably on the planet.

There is so much more to do. Like our sis­ters be­fore us, we will seek a bet­ter, more in­clu­sive world for our fam­i­lies—how­ever we de­fine them.

Con­tribut­ing writer Velma McColl is Man­ag­ing Prin­ci­pal at Earn­scliffe where she is fo­cused on bro­ker­ing so­lu­tions for clients seek­ing in­no­va­tive pol­icy and po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tions in sus­tain­abil­ity and eco­nomic growth. velma@earn­scliffe.ca

Kath­leen Monk is a pub­lic af­fairs and cam­paign con­sul­tant at Earn­scliffe where she is ded­i­cated to ad­vo­cacy cam­paigns and dig­i­tal en­gage­ment. She ap­pears reg­u­larly on CBC’s In­sid­ers panel. kath­leen@earn­scliffe.ca

Photo: Beaton In­sti­tute, Cape Bre­ton Uni­ver­sity/ Wanda Rob­son Col­lec­tion/2016-16

Vi­ola Des­mond, who fought racial and gen­der bias in Nova Scotia, and whose im­age now graces our $10 bill.

Archives Canada Photo: Li­brary and

Agnes Macphail, a farmer and teacher, be­came the first woman MP in 1921.

Photo: Li­brary and Archives Canada

Nel­lie McClung, who led the fight of the Fa­mous Five to the Supreme Court in the fa­mous case to have women de­clared “per­sons”.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.