Canadian women & the struggle for equality by Lorna Marsden.

Author:Uneke, Okori
Position:Book review
 
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Marsden, Lorna R. Canadian Women & the Struggle for Equality. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press, 2012. xi + 290 pages. Hardcover, $29.99.

Canadian Women & the Struggle for Equality is a historical-sociological account of the transformational process women went through in their quest for equality in Canada. Lorna R. Marsden, a sociologist, activist, former Canadian senator, and former university president, recounts the long road toward equality women have traveled. She discusses this struggle in the context of the evolution of the law, demographics, the labor force, health care, immigration, and the world wars. In effect, this book aims at a comprehensive explanation of how women and women's organizations contributed to social change and how the sociological circumstances within which major improvements in the status of women in Canada came to pass. The focus is on the means through which Canadian women and their male supporters succeeded in moving their agendas into law or common practice. What is remarkable was that social change in Canada was slow and accretive, and the struggle for women's equality occurred without social strife or acrimonious debate.

The author traces gender inequality in Canada to the British North America (BNA) Act of 1867, which became the basis of the Canadian constitution. The first major flaw of the BNA was "the complete omission of rights or recognition of women. Women neither participated directly in nor were mentioned as a group in the debates that led to the BNA Act" (p. 30). As a result, women were ignored in public life. Voting rights excluded women, and women's citizenship was tied until 1946 to their husbands or fathers. If a woman married a non-British subject, she automatically lost, along with other citizenship rights, the right of franchise. Married women were (or were expected to be) dependent on their husbands' income and could not seek paid employment outside the home. Single or widowed women were expected to live on modest means. Women were not likely to consider themselves equal to men and, even if contemplated, opportunities in the public domain to express such beliefs were limited. While women could vote in public elections in the 1960s, there were very few female representatives in the legislatures or the courts. Furthermore, only married women had access to birth control. In fact, the general perception was that women achieved a higher moral status through motherhood. Consequently...

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