“Women are supposed to spend their lives cooking and cleaning for men.
” Such a statement may seem unacceptable today, but it was an expected duty in Canada’s past. However, women’s rights have changed and progressed for the better. Although there remains work to be done, the past holds many milestones for women that have given them their rightful opportunity, justice and freedom. Widely recognized, believed and understood, the term “feminist” is a growing title that Canada’s very own Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared himself as in 20171. Yet women weren’t always known to be as capable as men.
In fact, they were not believed to be persons at all. In 1929, a group of five female Albertan feminists decided to bring a significant change for Canadian females. The Persons Case was triggered by the BNA Act, which declared that “qualified persons” only were capable of working in the Senate. The term ‘persons’ did not define women’s incompetence. Emily Murphy, the first female magistrate of Canada, decided that a petition should be sent to the Canadian government bringing attention to the clarification of the word “persons”2.
She gathered four more strong women to join her named Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards and Louise McKinney. Together, the Famous Five challenged the Canadian government about the rights of women in the Senate. However, the Supreme Court declared that persons did not comprise of women, and therefore could not join the Senate.
The Famous Five communicated their issue to the Privy Council of England, which held more power than the Supreme Court of Canada. After much hassle and constancy, the Famous Five brought justice to females across Canada as women were allowed to run for the Senate. Since then, women were not only persons, but were allowed to pursue work in politics and have their voices heard. In 1930, the first female Canadian senator was Cairine Wilson3. The Famous Five did not give up, and their strong beliefs in women’s competence changed women’s suffrage forever. According to TIME, women are statistically more likely to have a college or bachelor’s degree than men4. This wouldn’t have been possible without the female figures who first achieved post-secondary education. One of these inspirational personalities was Elsie MacGill.
Born March 27, 1905, she was raised by a strong feminist known as Helen MacGill, who also happened to be the 3rd female judge in all of Canada. The University of Toronto accepted MacGill in 1923 and she graduated with a degree in electrical engineering in 1927. MacGill was the first woman to do so. She faced a major impediment in 1929 when she was diagnosed with polio, but continued to work despite her wheelchair restriction.5 By 1932, MacGill had overcome her limitation and began studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
She became the first female in the world to obtain a degree in aeronautical engineering. When the Great Depression struck, MacGill received a miraculous offer to work at Fairchild Aircraft Ltd., bringing her directly back to Canada.
She proved herself a great leader as she worked on several tasks, and was offered the position of chief aeronautical engineer at the Canadian Car and Foundry in 1938. MacGill oversaw workers as she planned and constructed the Maple Leaf II Trainer, the initial piece of air machinery designed by a woman. The Maple Leaf II Trainer was later on used as a model to create what MacGill became famous for: the Hawker Hurricane fighter plane. When World War II broke out, Great Britain required immediate help to defend itself from the Luftwaffe. MacGill oversaw thousands of workers as they built Hawker Hurricane fighter planes. She also helped re-design and stabilized the plant to be able to mass-produce Hawker Hurricanes.
6 Her success helped not only other women realize their potential, but led to Britain’s victory. The Hawker Hurricanes were a crucial component in the Battle of Britain and aided in its defence. MacGill was titled the “Queen of the Hurricanes” due to her effortful accomplishments. The first brave step had been taken towards opening a new possible future for other women around the world. Her rewarding experience with her career proved to the world that women are capable of accomplishing what some believed impossible. MacGill’s feminism inspired other women to stand up for their rightful education, and her skill taught Canadians that true talent has no gender. After World War II ended, women had once again greatly aided the nation in times of need.
The jobs they had taken over pulled the country together and supported those overseas. Nevertheless, as life went back to normal, what was expected of females didn’t quite satisfy some. Staying home, cleaning, cooking and being a “good wife” were the norms of society. Men, on the other hand, had much more freedom and control over their lives and those around them. These gender roles were encouraged and taught at a very young age7. These sexist attitudes changed dramatically, however, when the Royal Commission on the Status of Women (RCSW) was created in 1967.
Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson established the RCSW and appointed Florence Bird as the chair. The purpose of the RCSW was to improve gender equality. There were many who attended RCSW public hearings across the nation, and the organization received confirmations and support from women8.
After they finalized a 488-paged book of 167 recommendations on improving women’s rights, the federal government organized the Status of Women Canada in 1971. It took quite a few decades to improve and establish the demands written by the RCSW, and they were unable to proceed and further establish themselves, but Canada made much progress in terms of women’s freedom. Canada’s first woman prime minister was Kim Campbell, although she lasted in parliament for a few months during 1993.
Women have legal rights over birth control. Hiring employees based on gender and marital status is unacceptable. Gender-based violence has been greatly reduced.
Today, half of the cabinet of Canada consists of women9. This progress was largely influenced by the brave feminists who stood up and supported the RCSW. Canada holds many defining moments for women.
They brought political and societal change and helped the country strengthen and grow. Women’s rights and freedoms have improved over the years and brought lawful change. The progress that has been made is acknowledged, and there are numerous feminists surfacing across the globe. It is important to remember and involve women due to the capability and potential they have.
There is room for improvement, but these solid barriers that have been defeated are significant incidents that changed Canada’s history.