Community & Current Events

17 Key Moments in the Canadian History of Women's Rights

Women's Rights Timeline in Canada : 17 Key Moments in The History of Women's Rights

Ethel Catherwood trains for the Olympics in 1928, and during the games she was one of 6 Canadian women who competed. She took home gold in the high jump. Image by: Getty Images

Community & Current Events

17 Key Moments in the Canadian History of Women's Rights

From Criminal Code Amendments to maternity leave to Bill C-127, these are the key moments in Canadian history that made a big difference to women.

While much of our current attention is on the state of women's rights in Canada today, it's always a good idea to reflect on how far we've come. Though, you might be surprised at how recently some of these rights and freedoms were extended to women. Case in point? Women have only had the right to vote in Canada for the past 100 years—and Aboriginal women didn't get the right to vote until 1960. Still, we'll celebrate these victories as we look to the future and continue the conversation about women's rights in Canada and the world.


Here are 17 key moments that have defined women's rights in Canada. 



Starting in Ontario in 1884, the creation of the Married Women’s Property Act means that married Ontario women have the same legal rights as men and can purchase property. Manitoba is the next province to follow suit in 1900 and gradually other provinces and territories do the same.



An amendment to the Criminal Code criminalizes kidnapping of women. Previously, the abduction of a woman over the age of 16 was legal unless the woman was an heiress.



Caucasian women are slowly given the right to vote in Canada, starting with provincial elections in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta in 1916. By 1918, all Caucasian women are able to vote in federal elections, but it takes until 1951 for provincial voting privileges to extend to white women in every province and territory. In 1960, Aboriginal women finally get the vote.



British Columbia passes legislation that gives women six weeks maternity leave before and after giving birth. No other province or territory has maternity leave until 1964.



For the first time, Canada’s Olympic Team includes female athletes.



Thanks to the petitions of Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Emily Murphy and Irene Parlby, women become persons under the law and can hold political office. One year later, Cairine Reay Wilson becomes the first woman appointed to the Senate. Inspired? But there are also many more Canadian women who made an impact on us.



Ontario passes the Fair Employment Practices Act (creating fines and a complaints system to minimize discrimination) and the Female Employees Fair Remuneration Act (to tackle the gender wage gap).



Sections 15 and 28 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms come into effect, establishing the constitutional right to equality. The government cannot discriminate against individuals based on their sex or sexual orientation.



The passing of Bill C-127 makes sexual assault (and rape) within the context of marriage a crime.



Kim Campbell serves as Canada’s first woman Prime Minister for less than five months.



Canadian Human Rights Commission recommends a pay equity system to Parliament, which subsequently lead to the appointment of Bilson Task Force to improve the federal pay equity approach.  



The Standing Committee On the Status of Women was established in the House of Commons for keeping Parliament informed on issues pertaining to women's participation in society and promoting government action on equality. 



Same-sex marriage is legalized in Canada.



Canada leads a successful international Campaign at the United Nations to establish the 'International Day of the Girl' to bring attention to women's rights on a global level. (Yay Canada!)



Canada launches the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The final report and subsequent recommendations would be released in 2019.



Gender expression and gender identity are added to the Canadian Human Rights Act. 



Karen Jensen becomes Canada's first-ever Pay Equity Commissioner.


Read up on these 10 Canadian ladies paving the way for women everywhere, if you're looking to the future of women's rights in Canada.



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Community & Current Events

17 Key Moments in the Canadian History of Women's Rights