Right now Canadians are gearing up for the 42nd Federal Election, which will be held on October 19. Four days later the new film about the UK suffragettes will be released in North America. In light of the forthcoming film, The Guardian published an article on “Why the suffragettes still matter,” and it seemed an appropriate time for the History Collective to talk about Canadian women in politics.

Canadian Suffragette Nellie McClung (1873-1951)
Canadian Suffragette Nellie McClung (1873-1951)

For those of you less familiar with the suffragette movement in Canada, Canadian women were granted the right to vote Federally in 1918–Provincially the date ranged from 1916-1940 (Elections Canada). 1918 is also when British women were granted the right to vote, but the timing is really the only similarity as the suffragette movement in Britain was, to put it very mildly, far more heated (National Archives UK). In comparison the Canadian suffragette movement fits the national stereotype of Canadians as polite and mild-mannered.

Today, the big issue in Canadian voting is low voter turnout. Statistics from the last Federal Election suggest that 2.3% more women voted than men, but that is far less significant than the fact overall voter turnout was only 61.1% of registered voters. This represents a significant decrease as prior to 1993 “turnout typically varied between 70% and 80%.” (source)

But, returning to discrepancies in Canadian Politics, Canadian women might be voting at a slightly higher rate than men, but they are underrepresented in the House of Commons. Of the 308 elected members in the 2011 Federal Election, only 76 were women. (source) This discrepancy is most apparent in the Maritimes, and in Nova Scotia the ratio of elected men to women was 10:1.

Suffragette Cartoon (click to enlarge)
Suffragette Cartoon (click to enlarge)

In a single blog post it is impossible to untangle the myriad reasons why these inequalities persist. Similarly one can not do justice to the international concern that, although women have suffrage in most countries, “women still make up two-thirds of the illiterate peoples of the world.” (source) But it can, hopefully, give you some food for thought.

I won’t tell you to vote on October 19 because women fought for that right, such a message is about as helpful as telling small children to eat their brussels’ sprouts because there are starving children in Africa. But I will leave you with a Lady Gaga parody and Mrs Banks singing about suffrage in the hopes it inspires you, male or female, to exercise your democratic right to vote–or as I like to call it “exercising your right to complain about the government.”



P1200605Author: Gwenith Cross

Feature Image Photo Credit: The Children's Museum of Indianapolis
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