Past, Present, and Future of Women’s Rights in Canada

Protecting women’s rights in Canada

In Canada, women’s rights are human rights. Canadian legislation protects the rights of all women, regardless of race, sexuality, income, religion, age, or ability. The main legal instruments protecting women’s rights in Canada are the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA). 

Gender equality, as defined by UN Women, is “equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities” for all genders. Despite rhetorical claims and legislation that stand for gender equality, there are still disparities between men and women in Canada. For every dollar a man makes, a woman makes 76.8 cents. 

Immigrants are welcome in Canada, and they even make up a large percentage of the population. Immigrant women in Canada have the same rights as other women, but there is still progress to be made. 

In light of recent women’s reproductive rights tragedies in the United States, Canadians should take a stand for their rights and demand justice. If we don’t speak up, the Canadian government could take away our rights just like the U.S. government did to American women. Keep reading to learn about the past, present, and future of women’s rights in Canada.

All men and women, immigrants and natives, in Canada can invoke change in society and legislation by standing up for equality and voting for a more progressive future. 

History of women’s rights in Canada

Canada has a long and slow history of women’s rights. It took decades for all Canadian provinces to enact legislation to protect basic human rights for women. Looking ahead, Canadians should encourage their government officials to uphold and instate legislation that protects gender equality in all areas of society. Here is a brief history of some pivotal moments in Canadian women’s rights. 

Married Women’s Property Act

Prior to 1884, Canadian women didn’t have the same rights to own property as men did. The Married Women’s Property Act gave women equal rights to property. This act wasn’t fully implemented in all provinces until 1964. All Canadian women could then buy and own property the same as men always could.

Women’s voting rights

The years 1916 to 1960 were pivotal in the fight for women’s voting rights. All white women in Canada could vote in federal elections by 1951. It took another nine years for aboriginal women to gain these same rights. We can thank the thousands of women who worked for 44 years to acquire this basic human right to vote. 

Fair Employment Practices Act

Canada first enacted the Fair Employment Practices Act in 1951. The goal of this act was to eliminate discrimination in Canada’s labour force. There were several acts that followed which granted even more rights and protection to women. These included the Canada Fair Employment Practices Act of 1953, Female Employees Equal Pay Act of 1956, and Employment Equity Act of 1986. 

The Canada Fair Employment Practices Act of 1953 applied fair employment practices to the civil services sector. The Female Employees Equal Pay Act of 1956 outlawed wage discrimination based on sex. The Employment Equity Act of 1986 prohibits federal employers from placing any discriminating barriers between citizens and employment opportunities.

Canadian Human Rights Act

The Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) of 1977 protects women who are employed by or receive services from the federal government, First Nations governments, or private companies regulated by the federal government. The CHRA dictates that all Canadians have the right to “equality, equal opportunity, fair treatment, and an environment free of discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, marital status, and family status.” Gender expression and gender identity weren’t added to the CHRA until 2017.

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

In 1985, Sections 15 and 28 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms were established. Section 15 guarantees that all people will have equal rights to the law “without discrimination […] based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” Section 28 ensures that the rights within the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms apply to both men and women. 

What rights can immigrant women expect in Canada?

As a woman immigrating to Canada from another country, you may be wondering what rights you will have in your new home country. Unfortunately, immigrant women still face discrimination in public and in the workplace. Canadian social activism groups are fighting for legislation and equal treatment of all women

Canada offers equal employment and educational rights to immigrant women. Immigrant women make up 22.9% of the workforce in Canada. Immigrant women also make up a large portion of students in Canada. Despite these facts, immigrant women still experience a prevalence of poverty and low income. 

Legal immigrants into Canada have the same rights as Canadian citizens by law. However, this doesn’t mean Canadian immigrants won’t face discrimination. As an immigrant, you should familiarize yourself with civil rights legislation. You can report instances of discrimination in the workplace to fight for your rights and set a good precedent for other women. 

Immigrants are statistically less likely to vote than other Canadians. If you are an immigrant in Canada, let this be an encouragement to you to vote in your next eligible election. This is one of the best ways you can fight for equal rights and progressive legislation. 

Abortion rights in Canada

On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe v. Wade. For almost 50 years, Roe v. Wade upheld the constitutional right for women to access safe abortions. After this new verdict, it is up to the state governments to dictate the availability and legality of abortions. This leaves women around the world questioning the fragility of their own rights

History of abortion rights in Canada

Starting in 1969, Canada began to recognize abortion as a necessary option for some women. Abortions were limited based upon the endangerment of a pregnant woman’s life. In 1970, Canadian women protested for the liberalization of abortion laws. In 1988, R v. Morgentaler ruled that Canada’s abortion laws were unconstitutional. Canada became one of the few countries that didn’t limit abortion and treated it like any other medical procedure. 

From 2006 to 2018, Canadians continued to fight for liberal abortion rights for women and against those who opposed the pro-choice legislation. The most recent development in abortion rights was in 2020. The Protecting Access to Reproductive Health Care Act of 2020 prohibits protests within a close distance of abortion and healthcare clinics. 

Future of abortion rights in Canada

Occasional private activist groups and individuals threaten Canada’s widespread safe and legal access to abortion. So far, Canadians and the Canadian government have done a good job at fighting back against any anti-choice movements. Moving forward, it is important that Canadians continue to advocate for safe and legal abortions for all women. 

Canada is lucky to have leaders that believe in liberal women’s reproductive rights. The minister of families, children, and social development, Karina Gould, even offered Canada’s medical services to Americans seeking to obtain abortions now that Roe v. Wade is overturned. Canada is a good example of fair and humane reproductive rights, and we hope to keep it this way.

The bottom line

Canada has a long history of women’s rights. In most areas, Canadian legislation has continued to progress forward in a positive direction. In the 1900s, it took many years for certain laws to be passed in all provinces. This shows that Canada can improve on the speed at which it enacts women’s rights legislation. 

Legal immigrant women in Canada are afforded the same rights as Canadian citizens, but they still face discrimination in some areas. Just because there are laws in place to protect women’s rights in Canada doesn’t mean that there aren’t still disparities. The socio-economic systems in Canada still have some catching up to do. Canadians can help the positive progress of women’s rights by advocating for themselves and their fellow women in the workplace, at the doctor’s office, and in everyday society. 

The United States, on the other hand, has gone backward in progress. With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, it may now be more difficult and dangerous for women to get abortions in some states. Canada has already offered American women safe abortions on the maple leaf side of the border. 

Equal rights and opportunities for women benefit all people. When women are empowered, they can change the world for the better. Women have so much to offer, and it is the job of all Canadian citizens to keep fighting for equality. 

Choose Canada Magazine

Each member of our team at Choose Canada Magazine has been in Canada for over five years, and has helped dozens of people worldwide find their life in Canada.

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