International Women’s Day 2019: A Reflection on Women, Gender Equality and the 42nd Parliament

(Disponible en français : La Journée internationale des femmes 2019 : une réflexion sur les femmes, l’égalité des sexes et la 42e législature)

Women’s participation in Canadian politics and in the Parliament of Canada is longstanding. Over 100 years ago, women began lobbying to obtain the right to vote in federal elections and to represent the interests of their fellow Canadians as elected or appointed parliamentarians.

Women and the Parliament of Canada

Federally, some women gained the right to vote in 1917, under the Military Voters Act and the Wartime Elections Act. In 1918, An Act to Confer the Electoral Franchise upon Women granted most women the right to vote federally in Canada. However, most Asian-Canadian, Inuit and First Nations women and men were not able to vote federally until 1949, 1950 and 1960, respectively. As well, other groups of women, such as Black women, have historically faced prejudice and discrimination that may have affected their decision to vote.

The first female member of Parliament, Agnes Macphail, was not elected to the House of Commons until 1921, and for decades, various groups of women would remain unrepresented in the House of Commons. For example, Ethel Blondin-Andrew was the first First Nations female Member of Parliament (1988) and Jean Augustine was the first Black female Member of Parliament (1993).

In contrast, women were not eligible to be appointed to the Senate until 1929, following the efforts of five women who fought to have women recognized as “persons” under the law (the Persons Case).

While the first female senator, Cairine Wilson, was appointed to the Senate in 1930, some groups of women remained unrepresented among senators for several decades. For example, Anne C. Cools became the first Black senator in 1984, and the first female First Nations senators, Lillian Eva Dyck and Sandra Lovelace Nicholas, were not appointed until 2005, nearly 50 years after the first male First Nations senator, James Gladstone, was appointed in 1958.

Women in the 42nd Parliament

The world average for women’s representation in the single or lower house of national parliaments was 24.3% on 1 January 2019, whereas women’s representation in Canada’s Parliament stood at 26.9% (62nd of 193 countries) on that date. In Canada’s 42nd Parliament, women’s representation reached its highest ever level in both the House of Commons and the Senate, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1 – Women’s Representation in the Parliament of Canada since the 14th Parliament

Le diagramme à barres de la figure 1 illustre le pourcentage de femmes à la Chambre des communes et au Sénat depuis la 14e législature. L’axe horizontal représente le temps écoulé entre la 14e et la 42e législature. Les barres correspondant à la Chambre des communes font ressortir une tendance à la hausse, la proportion de femmes passant de 0,4 % à la 14e législature à 5,5 % à la 32e législature, puis à 20,3 % à la 36e législature. À 26,7 %, la représentation des femmes a atteint un sommet à la 42e législature. Les barres correspondant au Sénat font elles aussi ressortir une tendance à la hausse. On y voit que les femmes y ont à peu près toujours été mieux représentées qu’à la Chambre des communes. La première sénatrice a été nommée à la 16e législature. À ce moment, les sénatrices représentaient 0,9 % de toute la Chambre haute. La représentation des femmes au Sénat est passée à 11,2 % à la 32e législature, pour dépasser 20 % à la 35e législature. À 45,5 %, la représentation des femmes a atteint un sommet à la 42e législature.Note: Data shown for the 42nd Parliament is current to 26 February 2019. As of 26 February 2019, results of the 25 February 2019 by-elections are unofficial.
Source : Figure prepared by the Library of Parliament using data obtained from Parliament of Canada,Parliamentarians,” Parlinfo.

As of 26 February 2019, a total of 322 women had been elected to the House of Commons since 1867; representing 7.3% of all elected members of Parliament since the first Parliament. Further, women’s representation in the House of Commons and the Senate has increased since the beginning of the 42nd Parliament in 2015, as illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2 – Women’s Representation in the 42nd Parliament of Canada

La figure 2 compare la représentation des femmes au Parlement entre le 19 octobre 2015 et le 26 février 2019. Le 19 octobre 2015, les femmes occupaient 26 % des sièges de la Chambre des communes, comparativement à 27 % le 26 février 2019. Au Sénat, elles occupaient 37 % des sièges le 19 octobre 2015, et 47 % le 26 février 2019.
Source: Figure prepared by the Library of Parliament using data obtained from Parliament of Canada,Parliamentarians,Parlinfo.

While women’s representation has steadily increased since 1921, Canada’s House of Commons has yet to surpass the 30% target for women’s representation in decision-making and leadership roles set by the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Furthermore, only one prime minister in Canadian history has been a woman, the Right Honourable Kim Campbell, in 1993. 

Gender Equality Initiatives in the 42nd Parliament

During the 42nd Parliament, various pieces of legislation related to women’s rights and gender equality have been enacted or introduced, including the following:

Since the beginning of the 42nd Parliament, parliamentary committees have conducted several studies on gender-related issues, including the following:

Furthermore, Canadian delegations for various parliamentary associations have focused on gender-related issues while attending international conferences and meetings. For example:

Additional Resources

Inter-Parliamentary Union, Women in parliament in 2017: The year in review, 2018.

Linda Trimble, Jane Arscott and Manon Tremblay (eds.), “Stalled: The Representation of Women in Canadian Governments,” UBC Press,2013.

Manon Tremblay, “100 Questions about Women and Politics,” 2018. [Translation of Manon Tremblay, 100 questions sur les femmes et la politique, 2015.]

Rosamund Shreeves, “Spotlight on Women in Politics,” European Parliamentary Research Service Blog, 5 March 2019.

Authors: Clare Annett, Dominique Montpetit and Mathilde Chartrand, Library of Parliament

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