Wednesday, October 17

The 80th anniversary of the Persons Case

John F. Kennedy once noted that "Things do not happen. They are made to happen."

This week in Canada, we celebrate a classic example of that truth: The Persons Case.

Eight decades ago, five feminist activists from Alberta appealed a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada that women were not persons under the law. On Oct. 18, 1929, England's Privy Council overturned the decision.

The Canadian government didn't easily decide to declare women persons, grant us the vote, or bring in laws to prevent employers from firing us once we got married.

Women themselves made those equality gains happen, just as they continue to today: Sacrificing time and income to make sexual assault and divorce laws fairer, to improve the matrimonial rights of aboriginal women, to secure maternity benefits and fair pay.

In the '60s, women fought to ensure we'd have legal access to birth control. In the '80s we fought to make it a criminal offense for a man to rape his wife. And, as recently as 2005, we fought to prevent the use of sharia law in this country.

Here are just a few of the changes that I and many other women believe are necessary for Canada to truly deserve its reputation:

  • We'd like the words of our national anthem to include us. We'd like daughters to be as cherished as sons, and raised as if they might one day fly to the moon or run the country
  • We'd like it to be unthinkable for a lingerie company to promote thong underwear and push-up bras to seven-year-olds.
  • And we'd like the news coverage of violence against women to challenge, not perpetuate, rape myths.
  • We dream about a time when women can "take back the night" the other 364 days a year.
  • When we have more chance of winning the lottery than being murdered by our spouse.
  • When the conviction rate for sexual assault is high enough to deter men from pretending that "no" means "knock her unconscious first."
  • We'd like the picture of Canadian power to look more like us, in all our diversity. For women to be equally represented in Parliament, not lagging behind Rwanda and Iraq with only with 21 per cent of MPs.
  • We believe that if women were actively recruited, supported, and allowed to run in ridings where they had a genuine chance of winning, then maybe our governments would get tough on the roots of social problems, not on the symptoms of crime.
  • Certainly the degree to which our collective economic future depends on women's willingness to sacrifice their physical and economic health to create future taxpayers would be clearer. The indispensability of a national child-care program would be a given, and fewer children would suffer from the constraints of poverty.

These changes would continue the tradition that the Famous Five began. And they would benefit all Canadians. Studies from around the world make it clear that economic prosperity follows social equality.
When women are educated, given genuine choice around child rearing and employment, treated with respect, paid fairly and protected from violence, the entire society benefits.
We all have a vested interest in making it happen.
Media critic and author Shari Graydon will receive a Persons Case award this week for her advocacy work as president of MediaWatch and the Women's Future Fund.
LINK: Vancouver Sun

No comments: