International Women's Day is celebrated annually on March 8th with events held around the world throughout the month of March to inspire women and celebrate their economic, political and social achievements. The theme that the International Women's Day website has chosen for the 2012 celebration is Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures. Thinking of International Women's Day and this particular theme causes me to reflect on the advancement of women's rights in our own country and how it affects my daughters.
With all of the progress that has been made in women's rights it is easy for young women to forget that it really wasn't that long ago that women in Canada and other western nations were denied many of the basic rights that we now take for granted. For example, in Canada, women did not have the right to vote in federal elections until 1918. Despite being granted this right in 1918, however, women still could not run for office because they were not legally "persons" under the law.
Several years later, Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards pushed the government to include women in the legal definition of "persons" so that they could have the same right as men to serve the public. This legal challenge was known as "The Persons Case" and in 1929, due to the efforts of these women, the Privy Council in Great Britain declared that women were, in fact, persons and eligible to sit in the Canadian Senate.
A monument to the achievement of these five women was installed on the grounds of Parliament Hill in Ottawa in 2000. This monument, sculpted by Barbara Paterson, which honours the Famous Five is the first sculpture of Canadian women to grace Parliament Hill. We make a point of visiting this monument when we are in Ottawa because I want my daughters to understand and be thankful for the work that these women undertook in order to benefit future generations of girls like themselves.
In the spirit of it never being to soon to start learning about the historical struggle for women's rights, my younger daughter has just finished reading "Make It Fair" from the Canadian Flyer series of historical adventures which is about Nellie McClung's struggle to earn women the right to vote. From the viewpoint of an 8 year old, it is simply unbelievable that anyone ever thought that women should not have the same rights as men. The struggle for absolute equality may not be over yet but I'm sure that Ms. McClung and others of her generation would be thrilled to know that young girls today no longer harbour any doubt that girls and boys are equals.
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