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The Famous Five: Heroes for Today
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Status of Women, Citizenship

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Status of Women, Citizenship

Legal vs. Social Equality

Reading: "It is Up to Us!"


Nellie McClungCanada is destined to be one of the great nations of the world and Canadian women must be ready for citizenship.

—Nellie McClung, The Stream Runs Fast

The Famous 5 achieved significant advances toward reaching political and economic equality between men and women. A woman's right to vote and hold political office, including in the Senate, were important victories, but certain laws still discriminated against women.

Laws and amendments to improve women's status were forthcoming after the Second World War. The United Nations General Assembly (UN) adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, which mandated political equality on the basis of gender and equal pay for equal work. The UN also established a permanent Commission on the Status of Women in 1946 to investigate and report on the treatment of women around the world and to pass resolutions to protect their rights under the UN Charter. Canada also established a Royal Commission in 1967 to study the status of women in the country and to recommend changes and additions to Canada's laws that would ensure equal opportunities for both sexes. From this Commission grew the federal agency, Status of Women Canada, which ensures that all federal departments implement policies in accordance with the principles of gender equality.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights carried a high degree of weight, but it did not guarantee equal pay for equal work and the right to work. In Canada, provinces held responsibility for labour relations, so legislation establishing these rights had to be passed separately in each province or agreed upon through collective bargaining between unions and employers. In 1950, no province had passed such legislation, though many Canadian unions had negotiated contracts that included equal pay for equal work. Furthermore, employers were more likely to lay off women and to promote men, regardless of their demonstrated abilities. This violated women's right to work. Not until the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was passed in 1982 did women finally achieve full political and economic equality with men.

Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.

                                               —Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 28

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