October marks Women’s History Month, which the government of Canada first designated in 1992 to celebrate the achievements of women throughout the nation’s history. Women’s History Month includes International Day of the Girl on October 11th, as well as Persons Day on October 18th, marking the day in 1929 when women first became included in the legal definition of “persons” by Canada’s highest court of appeal to allow for women’s full participation in political life.
It’s important that we take this opportunity each year to underline the limited scope of the court’s definition, which at the time did not include all women, and the historical impacts of this which are still being felt. Many women of colour were not granted full voting rights until the late 1940s, while Indigenous women were excluded from voting at a federal level until 1960. Moreover, many Indigenous peoples struggle to have their traditional forms of governance fully acknowledged and respected to this day.
“I think Canada has to do a much better job of addressing the underlying root causes of why there aren’t more women in political life, especially Indigenous and racialized women. For Indigenous women especially, you’re talking about ongoing genocide. So it’s pretty hard to think about contributing to the political life of a country that is actively engaged in genocide against you,” emphasized Pamela Palmater, Mi’kmaw lawyer and chair of Indigenous governance at X University, in an interview for The Star in 2019.
As we use October to recognize women’s achievements in Canadian history, we would like to highlight the impact of women such as Mary Ann Shadd Cary and Louisa Ann Johnson, two Black Canadians and outspoken agitators in the fight for women’s suffrage in the mid 19th and turn of the 20th century respectively, both of whom died long before full suffrage was achieved. We hope that this month is not only one of reflection on stories like theirs, but of educating on the historical context of present day issues and empowering the work of the BIWOC still leading the fight on gendered violence and civic inequalities today.