How the two world wars shaped womens rights in Canada

I’ve already started writing the paper, I’m about 4 pages in so only 4 more pages need to be written.

458973Nov 27, 11:03 AM

My prof already approved of my thesis, as well, so please don’t change that

How the First and Second World War Shaped the Rights of Canadian Women

Women’s rights have been a controversial topic in Canada1. The patriarchy has been upheld by Canada since the commencement of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Women have had to fight for their rights, whereas men were awarded them without even asking. Part of the reason for this inequality is due to the heavy presence of men in judicial conferences 2. Canada has a history of men being placed above women, including the vote, military, and the workforce (_). However, major changes to these set of rules occurred when Canadian men were deployed overseas, specifically during the two world wars (_). The changes made for women’s rights during the world wars caused a ripple effect, which is still going on, today (_). The following paper will argue that the first and second world wars acted as a catalyst for women’s rights in Canada.

Before the commencement of international warfare, men and women in Canada had significantly different roles (_). Men were stereotypically seen as the “breadwinners”, whereas women were seen as the “homemakers”. The term breadwinner refers to one who goes out to work to make ends meet (_). While the term homemaker refers to one who is not employed outside the home; their job is to take care of the home (_). During World War I (1914), it was believed that all women wanted the same things, a husband, children, and a nice home (_). It was the majority opinion that women did not want to work in war, where they may be forced to kill someone (_). However, it is important to recognize that this opinion is wrong because Georgiana Pope, a Canadian feminist and former matron, states “the sight of soldiers or soldiers marching, a bugle call, the sound of drums or military band has power still to stir in me the old enthusiasm.”(_) This portrays the will of women to create change, to fight for their rights in Canada, its military, and international warfare.

In 1914, World War I started, and the Canadian government decided to deploy their men. At this time, most women stayed home to care for their children and houses (_). This notion upheld the gender roles mentioned above. Again, women were being told what they wanted to do. At the time, the only accepted roles for women in warfare were nursing or cooking (_); therefore, there were only limited roles for Canadian women in the war. Veterans Affairs Canada (_) states “as many as 3,141 women served with the Royal Canadian Medical Corps. and roughly 2,500 went overseas.” This number weakly compares to the 650,000 Canadian men (_) involved in the first World War. This number motivated the women who wanted to join the military to fight for their right to join. Veterans Affairs Canada states that the first world war affected the role of women in the military (_), through the recognition of women’s roles in war, which affect the rights of women in the Canadian military today. The nursing sisters were greatly appreciated for their work in World War I. However, it should be noted that it affected women’s roles in the military today by eliminating some of the stigma of women in war; it was proven that women are helpful.

During the first world war, women’s rights began to take off. Women began to sacrifice to earn rights (_). Many protests and women’s groups were created (_). Lynette Plett in her book, ____, states that in 1915, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom was created (_). The reason this league was created was to educate others about peace and freedom for all. In 1916, women began the Suffrage movement, the right to vote (_). During the war, copious amounts of tragedy was inflicted upon Canadian women, firstly from the deaths of their loved ones, and secondly the feeling of helplessness. Despite these hardships, Canadian women channeled their energy into earning the right to vote (_). Their efforts paid off, and in 1918, the last year of the war, women won the vote (_). This greatly affects womens rights today because it was the sacrifice of those women that now allows women to vote all over Canada, regardless of race or socioeconomic status.

After women had won the vote, feminism began to move at a much more rapid pace. When considering the history of women’s rights in Canada, winning the vote is a crucial moment; it was a moment of freedom and justice.  Amendments still needed to be made to the way women were being treated, but it is evident that World war I fueled the suffrage movement through the hardships of its tragedies. Women felt helpless. They had no say in the activities that took place during the World War and this led to the want to have a say, the want for suffrage, the want to vote (_). Voting then became a right rather than a privilege. This win caused women to continue to fight for equal treatment, and in 1920 a bill was passed ending voting discrimination (_). Again, another huge win for women, which caused them to continue to fight and protest, which resulted in women joining the workforce.

When women joined the Canadian workforce, they were not treated as equals to men; however, it should still be regarded as a shaping moment in Canadian history and feminism because it marked the beginning of change. This change occurred after the First World War, which portrays the war acting as a catalyst for women’s rights. It should also be noted that women joined the workforce during the war, due to the lack of Canadian men at home. It is evident that after the first world war, many changes were made to the lives of women in Canada. Mary Kinnear, in her book about women in the workforce stated “professional women were among the most favoured women in the paid labour force, yet individually they were almost all in subordination to men.”(_) This signifies the direction in which women’s rights are headed because it portrays that women are favoured in the workforce, and will continue to fight against the inequalities they were facing.

Following the enactment of women in the workforce, Canada faced an uproar in feminism (_). The government of Canada in their historical archives of World War I (_) highlight the friendships created between nursing sisters. This signifies the importance of World War I and how it acted as a catalyst in what feminism was becoming because these friendships came with a sense of cooperation and loyalty; women were ready to have each other’s backs in this fight for rights. After the nursing sisters had returned from war, in the mid-20th century, many societies for women were created such as the Canadian Federation of University Women, International Ladies’ Garment Workers, and the Canadian National Association of Trained Nurses. It is evident that a variety of issues were being brought up and protested against. The societies were created as a means of fighting and showing a unified front. These issues were being fought late into the 1930’s until World War II began.




Plett, Lynette. “‘How the Vote Was Won’: Adult Education and the Manitoba Woman Suffrage Movement, 1912–1916.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2000.

  1. Gender roles
  2. Men go to war, women stay for the kids, upholding the gender roles
  3. World war I commences
  4. Gender roles in war → women allowed as nurses and cooks, nothing more
  5. Suffrage starts in 1916, women fight for their rights (the right to vote)
  6. Inflicting tragedy on women → both from the deaths of loved ones, and feelings of helplessness
  7. In the last year of the war, 1918, women earn the vote
  8. 1920, voter discrimination ended, and women entered the workforce
  9. 1920s-30s an uproar in feminism
  10. 1939 WWII commences
  11. Women’s role in WWII and feminism in WWII
  12. How the feminism of WWII affects us today, and how it acted as a catalyst for women’s rights
  13. Women’s rights current: are we where we want to be?

Catherine Carstairs & Nancy Janovicek (2018) The Dangers of Complacency: women’s history/gender history in Canada in the twenty-first century, Women’s History Review, 27:1, 29-40, DOI: 10.1080/09612025.2016.1254486

All three sources talk about women’s experience serving in WW1

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