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Women's Movements

Nationalism And Women's Movements In Canada

Like most modern states, Canada shapes its national identity in the light of multinationalism. Organizing a pan-Canadian women's movement required bridging linguistic and cultural differences between French-speaking Canada, English-speaking Canada, and First Nations (indigenous nations). Although both the English and French Canadian women's movements have stressed government's role in their strategies, and both have created national umbrella organizations, their constituencies have been shaped by divergent national interests.

In English-speaking Canada, the women's movement began in the late nineteenth century, focusing on suffrage, pregnancy rights, education, and economic independence and divided by philosophies and class constituency. Nellie Mc-Clung and other, mostly middle-class, maternal feminists organized moral crusades for social reform based upon their roles as mothers of the nation, while equal rights feminists, under the leadership of Dr. Emily Howard Stowe and Flora MacDonald Denison, promoted women's equality with men. Working-class women's organizations like the Woman's Labor League of Winnipeg also supported women's suffrage as a means to improve working conditions (Adamson; Briskin; and McPhail 1988).

In Quebec, the women's movement began some thirty years later. Although Canadian women were given the right to vote in federal elections in 1918 and in the English-speaking provincial elections in the 1920s, it was not until 1940 that Quebec enfranchised women (Dumont 1992). Thus, Quebec suffrage leader Thérèse Casgrain was still active when a new women's movement arose. In 1966, she founded the Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ), an umbrella organization of Quebec women's groups.

At the same time, pan-Canadian women's rights organizations worked for the creation of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, which was established in 1967. In 1972, they organized the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) as an umbrella organization of established women's organizations throughout Canada.

The women's liberation movement arose in Canada in the late 1960s with younger activists from other movements for peace, health and safety, native rights, and the new left. Largely independent of political parties, many were organized into small consciousness-raising groups; single-issue regional organizations working for access to abortion, birth control, and daycare; as well as student and socialist-feminist groups. They created alternative grassroots feminist organizations—rape crisis centers, shelters, women's centers, bookstores, counseling services, and feminist cultural and artistic alternatives—and deliberately distinguished themselves from the women's rights movement (Adamson; Briskin; and McPhail 1988).

In 1980, NAC began welcoming such grassroots groups and making its leadership more representative of Canada as a whole. It made equality in the federal constitution a high priority at a time when Quebec's constitutional relationship to the rest of Canada was being contested. Thus, most English Canadian feminists accepted NAC's federal strategy, while many Quebec feminists preferred a provincial approach (Black 1992). First Nations called for Canadian women's organizations to recognize indigenous rights in land and culture as inseparable from native women's conceptions of their own interests (Monture-Okanee 1993).


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Social IssuesWomen's Movements - Feminist And Feminine Movements In Brazil, Civil Rights And Women's Movements In The United States