Photo credit: cbc.ca
by Erin Bockstael & Kate McIntyre
We’re getting ready to commemorate a really important date in Canadian history. Before you respond with “I HATE HISTORY!”, trust us when we say this won’t bring you back to your grade school social studies textbook. History books often note that Manitoba women earned the right to vote and to hold office on January 28, 1916. And this is indeed something to remember. Canadian suffragists – women who fought for the vote – succeeded in bringing some women in to the political sphere, drawing us closer to the vision of social justice that feminism strives for.
But – and this is a pretty big but – that’s not the date when ALL Manitoban women earned the right to vote.
Throughout the early to mid-1900s, women and even some men were excluded from legislation that would allow them to vote at all levels of government. Their exclusion was based on a combination of factors – wealth, property ownership, criminal involvement, religious affiliation, ethnicity, and of course, gender. That’s a pretty diverse group of people who were denied the right to take part in the formal political processes that affected all citizens.
Obviously it didn’t stay that way; slowly but surely, voting legislation became more inclusive. It wasn’t until 1960 – nearly 50 years after Manitoba’s pivotal decision, when aboriginal women were granted the right to vote federally – that all Canadian citizens achieved the right to vote at all levels of government. These are exactly the kinds of facts we need to know in order to see a complete picture of our history.
How we celebrate the January 28th milestone matters. It invites us to look back on the gains – and equally important – the gaps of the suffrage movement. It reminds us that today we hold a fuller understanding of equality that follows several decades of international battles for civil rights and accompanying social change. Acknowledging the exclusions of our imperfect history can help us today to build a more inclusive future for all. It compels us to ask:
How, in our own communities, do we exclude or ignore others? Whose voices dominate the political sphere today? Why might that be? How do we make space for those who have been left out or silenced?
So yes, on January 28th let’s celebrate the stubborn resolve of suffragettes like Nellie McClung who fought for gender equality in the political sphere. Let’s honour the feminist spirit of the suffrage movement. But let’s also acknowledge these are not the whole of the story – and that when it comes to true equality, we are not done making history.