“Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.” said Hillary Clinton. (17 Inspiring Quotes About Women’s Equality For Women’s Equality Day, Because We’ve Made A Lot Of Progress, Even If We Aren’t There Yet.) Women’s rights are human rights, and Canada has done much to prove that they too agree, as much has changed in Canada in regards to women’s rights, but only to a certain extent. Generally speaking, major issues like reproductive rights, and women in the workforce, aside from the gender wage gap, have greatly improved and the change has made an impact in many women’s lives. But one big issue that remains unchanged is sexual assault/violence against women. These three reasons are why women’s rights have changed greatly, but not all issues remain solved.
Firstly, women’s rights have improved in Canada because reproductive rights in Canada have greatly improved since the 1950’s. Reason being, abortion has now become legal, the Canadian government has recognized the importance of abortion by implementing things in our law to ensure its protection, and women have gained more reproductive rights over time. Prior to 1969, abortion in any case, regardless of threat to a woman’s life, was deemed illegal. It was seen as a crime under section 251 of the criminal code and any and all persons charged with performing illegal abortions would be given life imprisonment (Abortion in Canada). From 1955 to 1969, over 120,000 illegal abortions were performed on women across Canada, with over 400 deaths caused by this in 1967 alone. This was one of the reasons why abortion needed to be legalized, because women who were desperate for an abortion could not get it legally or safely, so they resorted to taking drastic measures like getting it illegally, ultimately resorting to many deaths of women all ages. The Canadian government recognizing this issue and legalizing abortion would show that the Canadian government valued women’s lives. In 1969, Pierre Trudeau’s government ameliorated the criminal code, allowing abortions to be performed on women in authorized hospitals whose pregnancies jeopardized their health or life. To ensure that the pregnancy would indeed harm the mother, the procedure would have to be approved by the therapeutic abortion committee. (The Struggle for Abortion Rights) This was the first big step to legalizing abortion. Fast forward to 1988, doctor and pro-choice activist Henry Morgentaler was arrested after opening a clinic with two other doctors to perform abortions on women who did not receive admittance from the therapeutic abortion committee. Morgentaler challenged that section 251 of the criminal code breached section 7 of the newly founded Charter of Rights and Freedoms which ensures the right to life, liberty and security of the person. Morgentaler accompanied by lawyer, military officer and judge Chief Justice Dickson argued that forcing a woman to carry a fetus, by threat of going to prison, against her will unless she meets a certain criteria, was a violation to a woman’s body (Abortion in Canada) This argument ultimately legalized abortion for all women in Canada, and was a revolutionary step forward for women’s rights in Canada. In addition, before it was legal, and even after, abortion was seen as extremely immoral in any and all cases. In fact, in 1975 pro-life advocacy group Alliance for Life gathered over one million petitions in support of protecting the rights of an unborn child. (Abortion in Canada Timeline) After abortion was made legalized, pro-life protesters began terrorizing the providers of abortion to women. With attacks such as vandalism, picketing of clinics, and even attacks using firearms and explosives. In addition, three shootings against abortion providers occurred in Canada between 1994-1997. Dr. Garson Romalis was shot in the arm, and Dr. Hugh Short was shot in the elbow in 1995. (Anti-Abortion sniper won’t face justice in Canada) This prompted the BC government to introduce the Access to Abortion Services Act, the first bill passed in Canada to ban protests against abortion outside abortion clinics, doctors offices and provider’s homes.(The Struggle for Abortion Rights) Unfortunately, this did not stop another attack from happening against abortion provider and doctor, Jack Fairman in 1997. (Anti-Abortion sniper won’t face justice in Canada) The Access to Abortion Services Act was recently passed in Ontario in 2017 as well. (Ontario plans ‘safe access zones’ for abortion clinics) Abortion laws being implemented to protect women who wanted the procedure, such as the Access to Abortion Act, shows that the Canadian government recognizes the importance of abortion and women’s rights because they are introducing these laws to protect them, which is one of the reasons why it has improved. Also, women have gained new reproductive rights. Prior to 1969, women had no rights to any form of contraceptive method, when it did become legal in 1960; it was only available to be prescribed to females who needed it for therapeutic reasons, and not for birth control. This caused Women’s Rights Activists to protest the issue, many believed that birth control was a women’s right, as they should be able to control what happens to their body. This prompted the Canadian government to ultimately legalize birth control and other contraceptives in 1969. (History of Family Planning in Canada) The Canadian government legalizing birth control shows they recognized its importance and listened to the Canadian people when it came to this subject, showing that the government respected Women’s rights and moved to improve them. Therefore, women’s rights have improved in Canada, reason being, abortion has now become legal, and has been recognized, and further protected in laws in Canada, and contraceptive methods became legal also.
Secondly, women’s rights have also improved in Canada because women are now widely accepted in the workforce, and are now able to join the military. Though, it is only improved to a certain extent because of the gender wage gap. After WWII many women lost their jobs, or stopped working due to men returning home from the war. During WWII, over 1,200,000 women were working in the labour force, (Women at War) this number dropped to 563,000 (21.6%) women working during the 1950’s after the war. (Women and Paid work) Back then, there was a lot of built of stamina believing that women should not be working when there is a man in the house, and the man should be the sole provider. Women who did have jobs however, had jobs regarded as “female” occupations, work that was related to the housework most women did at home. (Women in the Labour Force) Even when searching for work women were faced with discrimination and backlash. In fact, in 1962 the government of Canada introduced the Human Rights Code which restricted all discrimination towards anyone in regards to their race, religious ideology, nationality, and motherland, but not on the grounds of sex. (Canadian History of Women’s Rights) This was altered when Charter of Rights and Freedoms was introduced in Canada in 1982, as section 15 prohibits discrimination against anyone because of their sex. The Canadian government altering their laws to protect gender-based discrimination shows its importance and how it has improved. Furthermore, more women began working in the 1960-1970’s because of newfound waves of feminism. Organizations were formed such as the Council On Status of Women, an organization formed to help fight discrimination against women formed in 1973, (Freeman-Shaw, 2017) and similarly, the National Association of Women and the Law, created in 1974. (Marsden, Lorna. 196) The number of women working jumped to 51% in 1976, (Ministry of the Status of Women, Government of Ontario) in comparison to that of the 21.6% in 1950. This shows that more and more women were being accepted into the labour force, and the built-up stamina of women not being providers was going away. As of 2015 the female participation rate has grown to 81%. An increase in Women working shows that Canada has long ago lost its discrimination against women working which is why women’s rights have improved. Also, women are now able to join the military, which is a big step for women’s rights as women were not able to join because they were seen as “weak” and incapable of handling the positions of the job. After WWII any and all women’s organizations were shut down by the Canadian military, the military felt that women were not needed now that the war was over. Though, when the Cold War and the Korean War started the government ran short on people to recruit for certain jobs, so some 5000 women were enlisted. These jobs included nursing, building munitions being in the air force and much more. In the early 1960’s more and more women started joining the military as various things and fields began modernizing and this opened more jobs and opportunities to women who wanted to enlist in more non-traditional jobs. (Canada Remembers Women in the Canadian Military) Unfortunately, by 1966 reductions were made in the size of the Canadian forces and industrialization in trades, job prominently held by women, caused the number of women in the military holding positions in regular services to drop to that of just 900, presumably because there were simply not enough positions open to women to get them to join. This almost caused the Royal Canadian Air Force to stop offering positions to women completely, though this did not go through as the government did not want to present themselves as a government who did not support more women joining the labour market. In 1989 arguments from the Royal Commission on the Status of Women and the Canadian Human Rights Commission, along with trials done by the military to test the effectiveness of women in non-traditional jobs, ultimately removed any limitations towards women in the military and opened any and all jobs to women with the exception of services in the submarine, which was later lifted in 2001. (Women in the Military) The Government lifting prohibitions and allowing women to join in the military shows that they value women’s work, and believe that they can hold any position a man can. Still, one thing that remains unchanging in regards to women in the workforce is the gender wage gap. The gender wage gap in Canada is women earning 89 cents an hour to every dollar made by men, though this has improved from 1981 when women earned 77 cents an hour for every dollar made by men. (Gender gap, quantified: StatsCan data shows women earn 87¢ to men’s $1) Women still earned less in “female dominant” jobs such as nursing, and teaching, and women who have more or even equal levels of education still tend to be paid less. Although, women do tend to work less hours than men on average, studies show that women working the same hours with the same job still tend to be paid less. (Gender pay gap a persistent problem in Canada: Statscan data.) Furthermore, there are no laws to help this issue implemented in Canada, leading many to believe that this issue is a long way from being resolved. The Gender wage gap not being closed shows that Canada still has work to do when it comes to Women’s rights. Therefore, women’s rights have improved in Canada because women have now become an equal part of the labour force, and are now able to join the military. But this issue has only been resolved to a certain extent because the Gender Wage Gap still persists today.
Lastly, a reason why women’s rights have improved in Canada but only to a certain extent is because of the ongoing and troubling issue of sexual assault/violence against women. Sexual assault/violence is the only violent crime in Canada that is not declining, (Sexual and Harassment) approximately 1 in 4 women in North America experience sexual assault or harassment in their lifetime. (Sexual Assault in Canada) Women are sexually assaulted by men who perceive them as weak and easy to get to, or are defenseless. Men who do sexually assault women tend to comply with more traditional gender roles, making them perceive women as less than them hence why sexual assault occurs. (Why Does Sexual Violence Occur) Men perceiving women as less than them is a stigma that still exists today hence why gender inequality still around. In addition, just 5% of sexual assault was reported in 2011, (Sexual Assault in Canada) similarly, of every 100 incidents of sexual assault only 6 are reported. Women/girls do not report sexual attacks due to the fact that 80% of sexual assaults committed are by someone the victim knows, and survivors often do not want to report the crime in fear of the suspect getting in trouble, which would cause issues within the victim’s personal life. Women and girls not being to report these crimes lead to psychological responses to the trauma they endured, such as denial, guilt, and embarrassment. Also, many women who do report sexual assault are faced with victim blaming. Victim blaming occurs when instead of blaming the perpetrator, people blame the victim for the violence that occurred. (Why Does Sexual Violence Occur) Examples of victim blaming are telling the victim they “asked for it” and blaming the situation on how the victim dressed. Victim blaming allows more attacks to happen because suspects simply get away with it, and it promotes Rape Culture. Therefore, though women’s rights have improved in certain Canada in certain aspects, it has only improved to a certain extent due to the fact that sexual assault still happens in Canada regularly.
In conclusion, like Hillary Clinton stated, “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights”. ( 17 Inspiring Quotes About Women’s Equality For Women’s Equality Day Because We’ve Made A Lot Of Progress, Even If We Aren’t There Yet.) Canada has proven that it too believes that human rights are women’s rights. With pursuits made to satisfy women and the rights they deserve such as reproductive rights, and things changing for the better such as an increase in women working, Canada has accomplished a lot in regards to gender equality. Unfortunately, in regards to women in the workforce, the gender wage gap has yet to be closed, and sexual assault/violence against women still happens commonly today, proving that women’s rights have indeed improved in Canada, but only to a certain extent.