A brief history of the women’s vote

Part 2 in an ongoing series of voting-related blogs by Women’s Centre volunteers leading up to the federal election.

Ever see the statues of the five women in Olympic Plaza and wonder what they were all about? These are the “Famous Five” – Nelly McClung, Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, and Irene Parlby – women who played a huge part in women being elected to the senate! Today it is a widely accepted fact that women are persons and citizens, however this was a highly contested concept in Canada just a century ago.

The Famous Five owe a lot of their success to the hard work of women before them who were jailed, beaten, or humiliated in their fight for women’s suffrage.

Suffrage means the right to vote in political elections. While having the right to vote as women in Canada may be taken for granted today, historically citizenship was gendered. Only males were recognized as citizens and had the right to vote. Canadian women exercised their right to vote for the first time in a federal election in 1921. It is important to note, however, that this right was not extended women that the government termed “alien-born.”

Here are some facts about women’s suffrage:

  • The first country to grant women’s suffrage was New Zealand in 1893, followed by Australia in 1902.
  • By 1900, women had the right to vote in less than one percent of the world’s countries, compared to 18 percent of countries that granted the right to vote for men.
  • Canadian suffragists (women who sought the vote) first earned the vote provincially in Manitoba in 1916. Women in Quebec weren’t allowed to vote in a provincial election until 1940.
  • In Canada, most women of colour – including Chinese women, East Indian women, and Japanese women – weren’t allowed to vote at the provincial and federal level until the late 1940s.
  • It wasn’t until 1960 that all women in Canada were give the right to vote. Under federal law, Aboriginal women covered by the Indian Act couldn’t vote for band councils until 1951, and couldn’t vote in federal elections until 1960.
  • White women in South Africa attained suffrage in 1930, but Black women did not attain the same right until 1993 – only 22 years ago!

If you want to learn more about women’s suffrage, visit Women’s Suffrage and Beyond, or the Famous 5 Foundation. Don’t let the struggles of women to gain suffrage be forgotten. Find out about the political candidates in the upcoming federal election and on October 19, be sure to vote!

Have some questions about how to vote? Check out Voting 101, a Women’s Centre volunteer blog on registering, ID, and more.

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