Preamble to a Consultation of Women's Groups

by Madeleine Parent and Marie Letellier

This preamble was prepared on behalf of the Women's Consultation Planning Committee for a consultation of women's groups with the Secretary of State on June 26, 1986.

Over the past century, women in Canada have claimed equal rights with men. To cite but a few examples:

In 1899 a group of women cotton mill workers in Montreal fought for wage increases equal to those given to male workers. They were dismissed as "organizers" but their sisters won a raise in pay.

In later years, Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy, Idola St. Jean, Therese Casgrain, and many others persistently sought recognition of the equal rights to which they and their sisters were entitled.

Long and difficult struggles resulted in modest progress in terms of new legislation. Often, efforts to obtain implementation of the new laws were as arduous as the efforts to win their adoption.

"Those in power must demonstrate the political will necessary
to enforce social laws that promote equality."

Presumably, legislation marking substantial social progress will continue to meet with resistance from those who benefit from the inferior status of others. For this reason, those in power must demonstrate the political will necessary to enforce social laws that promote equality. With time, as the disadvantaged avail themselves of their new rights, social conditions improve and attitudes become more accepting of the new social realities.


The end of World War II opened a new era in the recognition of human rights, including the rights of women. Under the experienced guidance of Eleanor Roosevelt and others, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations in 1948 and later ratified by Canada. The Universal Declaration proclaimed the following rights, among others:

  1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights...

  2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex... birth or other status...

  1. All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection against discrimination...
  1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment...
  1. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance …

The 1948 U.N. Declaration is the cornerstone on which were built Canada's human rights laws and the Canadian Charter of Rights in particular. It provides the basic concepts behind much of our social legislation.

As decades went by, these human rights were elaborated upon and spelled out in more specific terms. They became the subject of further declarations and conventions adopted by the United Nations and, specifically, by Canada as a member country.

Even though it was long in coming, the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1980, was the logical sequence to the Universal Declaration of 1948. This new U.N. Convention was ratified by Canada in 1981. It is a document of particular interest to women who are concerned about equality for half of the human race.

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