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Women's Rights in the 20th Century

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Keywords: second wave feminism, impact of feminism

Throughout the history of the human race, women have been chastised, degraded and completely controlled by their male counterparts. Women have been oppressed and controlled without any room for retaliation. Whether it be an over-bearing father or an abusive husband, women had barely any say in what happened to them. They were housewives and child-bearers first and human beings second. Only during the 20th century did women make the most considerable progressions towards gender equality. Opportunities arose and women seized them, grasped for them; and used them to their full potential. Inter-related events throughout the 20th century allowed women to progress and they provided the necessary pushes towards gender equality. The women of the 20th century are responsible for the rise of gender equality in Canada The role of women in World war one (WW1), the Person's Case and the Famous five the first wave of feminism were important turning points in the beginning of the century as well as the roles of women in World War 2, their changing roles, and the actions of Agnes MacPhail which all lead to the second wave of feminism that instigated the alteration of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The beginning of the century was extremely important to the proclamation of gender Equality. It introduced Women as important figures in society and that they could make as much of a contribution to the world as men. Women participated in World War 1 and helped with the war effort; they combated women's rights on a legal scale for the first time via the Person's Case and sparked the first wave of feminism. Women sewed socks and attire for the men in the war and prevented them from suffering from diseases such as trench foot and they provided money for the war effort as well as took care of the children back at home; some women even worked in factories to make sure the economy was stable in Canada. In fact, by 1914, almost 20% of the workforce was female (Hundey and Margarry, 45). Almost 2400 nurses worked near the horrific battlefields in World War 1 and provided aid for the injured men (Santor, 36). These were important contributions because they gave women a base to fight with; they showed their capability and that they were not helpless individuals. This displayed that women could make just as much contributions to the world as men. Robert Borden's promise to allow women to vote after the war was important in starting the first wave of feminism because women could now vote. It allowed them to make a legitimate say in what occurred in the government by voting who becomes the leader of the government. In the beginning, it only permitted them to vote if they had husbands in the war or if they were participating in the war by being nurses. This eventually escalated to them being able to vote without complications which sparked the first wave of feminism. The first wave of feminism included the flapper movement which emancipated them from the bonds of traditional womanhood through the "scandalous" clothing and makeup (Hundey and Margarry, 118-119) also the previous events of World War 1 had more women going into the workforce. Women no longer had to have husbands to be self-sustainable, independent women. Unfortunately, women did not earn as much as men and at the end of World War 1 were expected to step down from their jobs for men (Hundey and Margarry, 45). Regardless, some women proved that they were capable and even fought for women's rights more intensively. The first step into legal battles against gender equality was initiated by the famous five through the Person's Case. Famous women like Emily Murphy and Nellie Mclung petitioned and fought a legal battle to have women be considered as 'qualified persons' recognizing their right to education and work, relinquishing them of their ambiguous 'person' status (Historica). This was a vital step in setting up the stage for the Charter of Rights because it recognized women as legitimate members of society. Women tried hard to promote gender equality and it paid off. The efforts of the women in the beginning of the 20th century were the women who would be the initial instigators of the re-evaluation of the Charter of Rights and freedoms.

At the start of World War 2 women had a chance to portray themselves as the useful and needed members they were of Canadian society. f They were not incapable second-class citizens. Women throughout the 1930s and World War 2(WW2) participated in World War 2, changed the role of women and portrayed their commitment to politics through Agnes MacPhail. Women played a pivotal role in World War 2 because the participated in directing planes in the RAF as well as cooking, cleaning and supporting the men in military bases, over 46,000 Canadian women were enrolled in military services (Hundey and Margarry, 221-222). On the home front, everyone relied on women to work and to take care of their children. Many women took care of the children back at home and worked in factories in order to provide munitions for the military, by 1944 1 million Canadian women were in the Canadian workforce (Hundey and Margarry, 221-222). Unfortunately, it seems like women made no advancement in the public mind because people still expected women to drop their jobs for men when they came back from the war but even so women kept fighting (Hundey and Margarry, 223). However, just like in WW1, it continued to give women a base to fight with. They used their participation to accentuate their contributions and once again to prove that they should not be 'enslaved' to lives as housewives and child-bearers. By participating in WW2, women proved their worth once again and they had sewn the seeds for a new wave of feminism (Hundey and Margarry, 223). Women finally began to challenge their roles in society and began going into higher level careers as well as entering into politics, they had begun developing more community organizations and services for women (Hundey and Margarry, 223; Anderson). The Role of women was changing throughout World War 2 and they were slowly becoming accepted participants of the workforce. Although their wages were still minimal they were presenting themselves as a capable minority that was beginning to work in professions such as Medicine and Law. Agnes Macphail was the first female senator and the first woman with a political position in Canada. Although her term was short, she made contributions to feminist movements by constantly writing articles and performing at speeches (Hundey and Margarry, 129-130, Doris Anderson). Although she did not actively participate in woman's suffrage she was good friends with suffragists like Nellie McLung and was a role model for women all throughout Canada (Anderson). By the mid 1940s, women were still fighting for gender equality; they did not forsake the efforts of the women who strived before them and instead built upon the efforts of those who had started the surge of gender equality.

The second wave of feminism was an international surge of all women in the world that promoted gender equality. By the 1960s women were fed up with their conditions, they felt like they were treated as second class citizens because wages were going up, unemployment rates were going down, but women were still considered lesser to men (Bellamy, Liz, and Kate Moorse, 73) and therefore started the second wave of feminism or the Women's Liberation Movement (Hundey and Margarry, 277-278). Women finally had the resources to strongly campaign for gender equality: they had the media, television, radio as well as constantly increasing literacy and education rates for women (Bellamy, Liz, and Kate Moorse, 73). The second wave of feminism would be the final push needed to seal the deal with gender equality. In response, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women was created in order to recommend steps towards women's equality (Hundey and Margarry, 341) and was important because it gave a layout as to how the Charter of Rights and freedoms would be altered in the upcoming years. The Royal Commission made sure that in the 1970s discriminatory employment on the basis of gender was illegal and it gave recommendations towards how gender equality would be achieved (Anderson). All of these events, in conjunction were crucial in battling the government to change the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. By the 1980s women were still frustrated because they were not considered equal, even though 45% of the workforce was female at this point, women only earned 72% of what men earned (Colyer et al. 32) it was evident that the RCAW was not helping and it was time for a change. It was a turning point in the century because the constitution was the highest law in Canada and no government was allowed to violate it to the point where a government that did could be struck down (Colyer et al., 377) and in 1982 the constitution was finally changed to include 'sex' in the following passage "Every individual is equal before and under the law... without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability."(Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 15[1]). Women had finally achieved what they rightly deserved. Their intense lobbying managed to push the government to change the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which was considered the highest law in Canada, it was a pivotal moment for women but it could not have been achieved without the struggles prior to it. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms made sure that women had completely equal rights in all aspects and any violation of it could be challenged in court as an offense towards human rights. Women had succeeded in triumphing over the gender boundary that had kept them chained for millennia. They put a stop to the battle of the sexes and legally introduced gender equality through the Canadian charter of Rights and freedoms, the most vital document in the history of gender equality.

In conclusion, the women of the 20th century and their actions were indubitably the prime forces in the rise of gender equality. The 20th century was the turning point for how women would live their lives. It is sad to imagine that prior to the 20th century women were confined to being wives, child-bearers and basically objects for a man's desires. This has all changed thanks to the efforts of women through all the events that occurred. The role of women in World War 1, the first wave of feminism and the Person's Case as well as the role of women in World War 2, Agnes Macphail and the changing role of women were all events that set the playing field and boosted the status of women in society to have the required edge to begin the second wave of feminism that would lead to the Charter of Rights being changed once and for all. Through all of time women were oppressed, manipulated and used and it is only now that they finally get the opportunity to flourish and succeed in an equal and fair country, Canada. Nonetheless, women had to work hard and fight for their right to be considered equal; Roseanne Barr once said that, "The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power.  You just take it".


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