Letter: Suffragettes and more

Oct. 18, 1929, women received the right to vote

Amidst all the hoopla of an election campaign, I expect Oct. 18 will pass with little fanfare.

The BNA Act did not specifically define women as persons; when appealed to the Supreme Court women were denied ‘persons’ status.

In a ten-year battle the Famous Five — Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney and Irene Parlby — appealed the Supreme Court decision that women were not persons to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England. At the time, that was the highest court of appeal for Canada.

On the historic day of October 18, 1929, Lord Sankey, Lord Chancellor of the Privy Council, announced the Privy Council decision that “yes, women are persons. “That the exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours. And to those who would ask why the word “persons” should include females, the obvious answer is why should it not?”

Today, many women around the world and even in Canada are still sold into prostitution, forced to marry, have no access to birth control or education, and are economically dependent on men.

This is substantiated by the recent case in Ontario that alleges that women are being brutalized and drug-induced and forced to work 7 days a week earning up to $1000 a day in a well-organized pimping industry that was moving these women across Canada wherever the most money could be made.

Yet women have made great strides forward. These are only a few:

In 1897, Clara Brett Martin became Canada’s first lawyer.

In 1909, the Criminal Code was amended to criminalize the abduction of women.

During the First World War, women were temporarily granted the right to vote on behalf of their husbands who were overseas.

In 1921, Canada’s first woman MP Agnes MacPhail began several successful campaigns, including prison reform and the establishment of old-age pensions.

In 1936, Ottawa nurse Dorothea Palmer was arrested for telling women about birth control.

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.

In 1973, the first rape crisis centres in Canada opened – in Vancouver and Toronto. By 1975 there were five transition houses in BC.

Women should not think their vote doesn’t matter or count. Get out there and vote.

Elvena Slump


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