The 1960s in Canada, as in most western nations, was a time of change. 1 The growing civil rights and peace movements, 2 as well as the emergence of a second wave of the women's movement, all marked this era as one of change. The resurgence of the women's movement created pressure to advance equality for women. 3
This pressure for change, however, followed a time when women actually seemed to be faring reasonably well. During the post-war period, in general, women were becoming better educated and more involved in paid work. The clincher was this: despite the fact that more and more women now worked outside the home, their domestic responsibilities had stayed the same. 4 In many ways, women now had two full-time jobs – one, that of housewife and mother, was unpaid work, and the other was paid work that invariably earned them less than men.
Therefore, issues emerged around the need for such changes as better-paying work and work-life balance. Today, while things have improved, it still sounds familiar. But in the mid-1960s, a key question remained: What exactly was the status of women? At the time, there was a shortage of information about women in Canada, and how to ensure they had equal opportunities with men. 5
On February 3, 1967, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women was launched. It had seven members, including five women and two men. And it was the first royal commission to be chaired by a woman, CBC journalist Florence Bird. 6 The Commission's mandate was to "inquire into and report upon the status of women in Canada, and to recommend what steps might be taken by the Federal Government to ensure for women equal opportunities with men in all aspects of Canadian society." 7
The Royal Commission held hearings in 14 cities over a 10-month period, grabbing the attention of both the media and the Canadian public. 8 Among the major impacts of the Royal Commission was the fact that it valued and gave a platform to women's voices. The result was a groundswell in awareness about the situation of women.
December 7, 2010 marks the 40th anniversary of the tabling in the House of Commons of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women report. In it, the Royal Commission recommended action on a wide range of matters, from taxation and poverty, to family law and the Indian Act.
In 1970, when the Royal Commission tabled its report, violence against women was virtually unrecognized as a social reality and a crime against women and girls. Ironically, not one of the Royal Commission's 167 recommendations dealt with this issue. But by the 1980s, public awareness was growing. The events of December 6, 1989, known as the Montréal Massacre, in which 14 young women were murdered because of their gender, propelled the issue of violence against women from the shadows into the spotlight of the public agenda.
As we look back on these decades of change in the status of women, and mark the 40th anniversary of the Royal Commission report, it's important to consider how far women have come. It's also important to take inspiration from the achievements to date, and let them fuel us for the work ahead.
1 Reference: Website entitled Canadian Dimension – for people who want to change the world, in an article entitled "Canada's 1960s: The Ironies of Identity in a Rebellious Era" by Henry Heller (August 2009), found at http://canadiandimension.com/articles/2482/ (accessed November 20, 2010).
3 Reference: Website of The Canadian Encyclopedia, in an article entitled "Women's Movement – Emergence of a New Women's Movement," found at http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0008684 (accessed November 20, 2010).
4 Naomi Black, "The Canadian Women's Movement: The Second Wave," in Sandra Burt, Lorraine Code, and Lindsay Dorney, eds., Changing Patterns: Women in Canada, 2nd ed. (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1993), p. 151.
5 Ibid, p. 159.
6 Ibid, p. 2.
7 Ibid, p. 2.
8 Black, p. 160.