Hot! A century of women’s rights: A struggle that continues

TheStar.com – opinion/editorials
Published On Tue Mar 08 2011.

The struggle for women’s political and economic rights was big news in Old Toronto, 100 years ago. British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Sylvia were drawing sizable crowds to Massey Hall and other venues. And editors at the Toronto Daily Star devoted much of the front page to eldest daughter Christabel Pankhurst’s stunning declaration in London that the suffragists had embarked on a “real war” to claim women’s rights.

“First we talked,” Pankhurst said after a march in London turned ugly on Nov. 22, 1911. “Then we took to peaceful demonstrations. Next we began interrupting public meetings, and to forcing our way into the House of Commons . . . As a third stage we began destroying property. As time has passed we have become more and more violent, and we shall get more so.”

By the time the dust settled, 223 British women were arrested after marching on the National Liberal Club, blocking traffic, scuffling with police and hurling stones at windows. Many showed up at court “badly battered,” with black eyes, scratched faces and torn clothes. They seem to have given as good as they got, using brass knuckles, hat pins and stones on the cops. They certainly weren’t cowed; they vowed to trash the prisons from the inside.

Those traumatic days seem distant, as Canadians mark the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. But the battle for equality was real, dangerous and waged with passion. The Pankhursts might well argue that even now it is only half-won.

Back then, some in the Canadian establishment shared the British prosecutor’s aversion to such “disgraceful and discreditable . . . organized disorder.” A not-so-funny quip in the Starsuggested that “a fashion note from England intimates that penitentiary stripes will be much worn by suffragette ladies this winter.”

But even in those early days, the Pankhursts were not without admirers here. Dr. Margaret Gordon and the Toronto Suffrage Association were active from offices on Yonge St., across from what is now the Eaton Centre.

In Toronto, more than 2,000 packed Massey Hall to hear Sylvia Pankhurst argue for the vote for Ontario women, as well as equal pay for work of equal value at a time when women were lucky to earn half men’s wages. Late that year, Emmeline Pankhurst made a “magnificent address” of her own at Massey Hall, declaring that “taxation (of women) without representation is tyranny.” Around her, banners read: The time has come to enfranchise the women of Canada and Ontario women need the ballot.

It would be some years before Canadian women got the vote, first on the Prairies in 1916, then in Ontario the following year. But 1911 was a watershed. The suffragist message about voting rights for all women, a fair break for working women, and the need to tackle poverty and hunger was gaining converts here with every passing day. A century later, we honour their courage and their tenacity.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/article/950191–a-century-of-women-s-rights-a-struggle-that-continues >

3 Comments

  1. Andrea Desjardins Daily

    I honour the courage and strength of the Pankhursts and the rest of the suffragists who risked their safety and their reputations to secure basic human rights for women in Canada. In saying this, it angers and saddens me that now, over one hundred years later; our current federal government is creating policies and laws that serve to deny women’s equality. In only six years, the Harper government has managed to significantly erode Canadian women’s rights: by cutting plans for a universal child care system; by significantly cutting funding to the Status of Women Canada, a government organization that promotes women’s equality through advocacy and funding to other NGOs, such as rape crisis centres; by reopening the debate on abortion in Canada; and by failing to address the wage gap between Canadian men and women. Canadians should be outraged by this denial of women’s rights and equality. A century later, Canadian women’s struggle for equality does continue.

  2. The achievements of women in gaining equality and rights are slowly being demolished by the Harper Conservatives. I agree that the fight for women’s equality is a struggle that continues. It is a losing battle against the Conservative government. The Harper government has said that women have already reached equality in areas such as employment. Mr. Harper has cut the Universal Child Care system, which enables women to work and be more independent. The Conservative government is actively working to take away hard won women’s programs that women’s advocacy groups such as the suffragettes have worked so long and hard to achieve.

    Canada is loosing ground in reaching employment equality opportunities for women due to the Harper government scrapping the Universal Child Care program. The Liberal government in the late 1990’s first introduced the Universal Child Care program. This program would have provided pan-Canadian early learning and Childcare systems, which would allow for affordable childcare. In 2006, the Conservative government was quick in announcing the termination of previous Universal Childcare program and replaced it with the Universal Childcare Benefit, which only provided families $100 a month per child with children under the age of six. With the average cost of childcare per day rising to $50, this benefit only covers two days out of the month for childcare. The loss of the Universal Childcare programs makes it much more difficult for women to work, increasing poverty. Women find it difficult to join the workforce considering large expense of childcare. Canada has a long way to go in providing sufficient services to support women and children and to gaining back the progress which had been previously achieved.

  3. I am currently taking my second Women’s Studies course and am very intrigued by what’s being done to gain women’s rights. This article discusses Women’s International Day, which took place on November 23, 1911. Women have been fighting for their own rights for many years now. Laws began to change in the year 1916 and by the year 1920 women gained the right to vote. When looking back, I realize that there has certainly been a lot of progress throughout the years. Women in many ways can now be considered equal to men, and not just portrayed as the one’s who cook and clean. I have a lot of respect for the Pankhurst family who made their names known and stood up for their rights. However, It saddens me to say that there are still many issues amongst women today.
    Recently Sudbury participated in the “Take Back the Night” movement, which attempts to eliminate women’s fear of walking alone at night. Anther movement, known as the “Slut Walk,” attempts to rid the objectification of women and alter men’s view on women’s sexuality. The Slut Walk began in 2011 after a Toronto policeman stated, “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” I believe that the Pankhurst family influenced other women to stand up for their rights and agree that voices need to be heard in order for change to occur. Women should not have to feel afraid to walk by themselves at night and women should not be as seen “sluts” for showing off their more feminine side. However, I also do believe that movements are not the only way for change to occur. The media has a lot of influence on the way in which society views women. Advertisements and commercials constantly reveal women’s body as the tool for selling products, which therefore, objectifies women. Violence is also continually being portrayed throughout movies and even video games, which makes men feel like they have to be the most superior. How often do you hear a male say “ do it, you’re a pussy,” or “stop being such a whimp”? The media not only puts too much negative emphasis on women’s bodies, but also creates a sense of negative violent thoughts in the minds of men.
    I do believe that women have the right to gain equalities. Look at the past 100 years. We can certainly see that there has been an abundant amount of progress made and we can surely thank the Pankhurst family for much of that. However, I believe that in order to achieve even greater equality, movements need to continue in order to create awareness and the media needs to realize the effects it has on society.

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