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History Of Discrimination Against Women
Discrimination in the Workplace
Violence Against Women
Sexual Discrimination Against Women
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
Further Information

Just Because I Am A Girl...

History Of Discrimination Against Women


How It Went Down.

Today, just like one thousand years ago, some women around the world are still sold into prostitution, forced to marry against their will, have no right or access  to birth control or abortion, have little access to education, and are completely economically dependent on men

  • In 1897, after a very long fight, Clara Brett Martin became Canada's first lawyer and the first woman to practice law in the entire British Empire.  She lobbied for a bill in the Ontario legislature that would overturn the Law Society of Upper Canada's regulations barring women because only "persons" could be admitted.  
  • In 1913 the Home and Domestic Employees Union was formed in Vancouver. In 1915, Helena Gutteridge ensured that equal pay was written into the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council constitution. Her work to bring together women's groups and labour activism resulted in BC's first minimum wage act in  1918. 
  • Suffrage activist and shit-disturber Emily Murphy became Canada's first woman judge in 1916.
  • After a long struggle, Canadian women (except First Nations women) obtained the right to vote in federal elections in 1918, after some limited women's suffrage was granted the year earlier. 
  • In 1921, Canada's first woman MP Agnes Macphail began several successful campaigns, including prison reform and the establishment of old age pensions. In the same year, BC passed Canada's first maternity leave legislation.
  • In 1921, Nellie McClung was elected to the Alberta legislature, where she campaigned for old age pensions, mothers' allowances, legal protection for widows, better factory conditions, minimum wage, birth control, and more. Alberta was the first province to have public health nurses, municipal hospitals and free dental and medical care for kids. 
  • In 1925 the federal divorce law was changed to allow a woman to divorce her husband on the same grounds that a man could divorce his wife - simple adultery. Before this, she had to prove adultery in conjunction with other acts such as "sodomy" or bestiality.
  • In 1928, Canada's Olympic Team included women for the first time. In the same year, Anna Dexter became queen of the airwaves as  Canada's first woman radio broadcaster. 
  • In 1930, another change to federal divorce laws allowed a woman deserted by her husband to sue for divorce after two years of being abandoned from the town her husband lived in before separation. Before, a woman's legal residence was wherever her husband lived, even if she didn't know where he lived. 
  • In 1931, Saskatchewan labour activist Annie Buller spent a year in jail for setting up a defense fund for striking workers. She later managed two newspapers and worked for rights for working-class women. 
  • In 1932, Dr. Elizabeth Bagshaw directs Canada's first family planning clinic, which was illegal at the time. In 1936, Ottawa nurse Dorothea Palmer was arrested for telling women about birth control. 
  • Québec women obtained the provincial vote in1940.
  • In 1941, Québec allowed women to practice law. In the same year, Eileen Tallman organized the first Canadian bank strike. 
  • In 1943, there was a massive influx of women into the paid labour force, taking over many traditionally male jobs while men were away at war. In 1945, Saskatchewan CCF MP Gladys Strum announced in Parliament that "No one has ever objected to women working. The only thing they have ever objected to is paying women for working." 
  • In 1947, Canadian women no longer lost their citizenship automatically if they married non-Canadians.
  • In 1951 Ontario enacted Canada's first equal pay legislation. Other provinces followed suit between 1952 and 1975. 
  • In 1952, Manitoba women were first permitted to serve on juries. New Brunswick women become jurors in 1954, and PEI women in 1966. 
  • A federal Women's Bureau was established in 1954. 
  • In 1955, restrictions on married women in the federal public service were removed. In the past women public service employees were fired upon marriage. This occurred only 45 years after a 1910 report concluded, "Where the mother works, the baby dies." 
  • Aboriginal women (and men) obtained the federal vote in 1960. 
  • In 1965, a woman established a shelter for "prostitutes, lesbians and junkies" in Toronto.
  • In 1966, women won a battle against high food prices through massive supermarket boycotts.
  • In 1968, the Presbyterian Church first ordained women. In the same year, inmates of the Kingston Prison for Women began publishing their magazine Tightwire, which provides the perspective of women in conflict with the law in articles, poetry and fiction. It was a banner year for women's self-expression, with books published by Margaret Laurence, Marie-Claire Blais, Claire Martin, and Mary Van Stolk. 
  • In 1969, the distribution of information about birth control was decriminalized. 
  • Also in 1970, the same year as the ground-breaking report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, women organized a cross-country "Abortion Caravan" to demand access to abortion services without charge. The Commission, by the way, did not even mention violence against women. It was still an unspoken and stigmatized reality. 
  • By 1971, Canada accepted an equal number of female and male immigrants. 
  • In 1971, Québec finally allows women jurors after eight Québec women were jailed earlier in the year for protesting the all-male jury law.  The federal government amended the Canada Labour Code to prohibit sex discrimination, reinforce equal pay for equal work, and establish a 17-week maternity leave. A year later, the federal government also abolished sex discrimination against potential jurors in criminal cases. 
  • In 1972, BC NDP MLA Rosemary Brown became the first Black woman in Canada to be elected to a legislature. The federal government instituted its first child care expense deduction. The same year saw the first issue of The Other Woman, a lesbian feminist newspaper.
  • In 1973, Pauline Jewett was the first woman President of a co-educational university - Simon Fraser in Burnaby, BC,  a hundred years after women weren't even allowed to enrol or graduate from most universities. Jewett went on to become a Member of Parliament focusing on issues of peace, disarmament and women's equality.
  • In 1973, the first rape crisis centres in Canada opened - in Vancouver and Toronto. In the same year, Interval House, one of the first shelters for abused women, also opened in Toronto. By 1975 there were five transition houses in BC.  This was 73 years after a woman in an "insane asylum" because she claimed her husband abused her was given a gynecological operation to "cure" her - a common practice around 1898. 
  • In 1974, the RCMP hired its first woman member,  one hundred years after an 1874 magazine stated, "Woman's first and only place is in her home." 
  • In 1975, the federal government amended 11 laws in keeping with equality for women, including providing equal rights for women and men in public service pensions. 
  • The remaining overt discrimination against female immigrants was removed from the Citizenship Act in 1976. 
  • In 1978, the law changed so that women could no longer be fired for pregnancy in federally-regulated industries. 
  • In 1980 in Nova Scotia, the first woman to be elected leader of a provincial political party holding seats in a legislature was Alexa McDonough. 
  • In 1981, 1,300 women met concerned about women's rights being excluded from the proposed new Charter of Rights. They lobbied Members of Parliament intensively which resulted in the inclusion of women's rights in Canada's constitution. 
  • In 1982, NDP MP Margaret Mitchell was laughed at in the House of Commons when she raised the issue of violence against women. The outcry from women brought national attention to the issue.
  • In 1983, rape laws were broadened to sexual assault laws and for the first time, made it a criminal offence for a man to rape his wife. In the same year, Ontario police were directed by the Attorney General to lay charges in domestic violence cases. Before this, men usually faced no consequences for beating their female partners. 
  • In 1983, the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibited sexual harassment in workplaces under federal jurisdiction. Before this , women in these workplaces had no legal recourse if their employers demanded sexual favours.
  • In 1985, the law was changed so that Aboriginal women who married non-status men could retain their Indian status, 14 years after Ontario Native Women's Association President Jeanette Corbière-Lavell launched an unsuccessful court challenge to overturn sex discrimination in the Indian Act.
  • Audrey McLaughlin, in 1989 became the first female leader of a federal political party with sitting members.
  • In 1986, Sharon Wood from Canmore, Alberta was the first Canadian woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. 
  • In 1988, the first woman Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Bertha Wilson, wrote one of the majority judgements which struck down Canada's restrictive abortion law. When she had first applied to law school, a professor told her to go home and take up knitting.
  • In 1999, the Supreme Court ruled that job standards and tests cannot be solely based on capabilities that would favour men. 

The continuing challenge is to eliminate poverty and violence, and to ensure that equality rights guaranteed on paper by national laws and international agreements become a reality for every woman of every race, language, ethnicity, economic status, ability, and sexual orientation.

Discrimination Against Women