October marks Women’s History Month in Canada, which the federal government describes as a “time for Canadians to celebrate the achievements of women and girls throughout our history and recognize the trailblazing women who have shaped our country and way of life.” Too often, though, these kinds of acknowledgements can be cursory, focusing only on the achievements of white, cisgender, educated, middle-class women. As part of our continuing focus on Intersectionality, the OSSTF/FEESO Provincial Standing Committee for the Status of Women would like to suggest some ways that Women’s History Month can be marked so that it’s as inclusive as possible.
The right to vote
Most of us are familiar with the story of the women’s suffrage movement in Canada. However, while the right to vote for women in Canada is commonly acknowledged to have been won in 1918, those voting rights did not fully extend to all Canadian citizens for another 42 years. Educators who teach history could ask students to research when and how other groups attained the vote. Chinese-Canadians, Indo-Canadians, Japanese-Canadians, and, shockingly, Canada’s Indigenous peoples are just some of the groups who did not receive the right to vote until decades later. Students could share this learning in round tables, presentations, electronic formats, etc.
Women’s Lib vs. The Sixties Scoop
In the 1960s, so-called Second Wave Feminism argued for equal pay and equal job opportunities for women. At the same time, the federal government oversaw campaigns which saw thousands of Indigenous children taken from their homes. The legacy of the “Sixties Scoop” lives on in Indigenous communities across Canada. Students in history, in English, or in anthropology/sociology classes could explore the contrast between these two moments in Canadian history, and how women with differing levels of privilege benefitted from the Women’s Liberation Movement.
In the last 30 years, various court cases and government rulings have dealt with abortion rights—from the convictions of Dr. Henry Morgentaler to the Supreme Court of Canada’s rulings based on the Charter of Rights to various private members bills under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Students of law or history could explore these various cases and rulings, and share this learning in round tables, presentations, electronic formats, etc. Students could also examine how access to abortions differs for women across Canada—for example, for those from racialized backgrounds, those from rural areas, etc.
There are many ways to extend our conversations about Women’s History so that our lens includes all women. Encouraging our students to see the differences in access to power for marginalized women in Canada remains our responsibility as educators.