What are you willing to fight for?
Would you fight to be legally considered a person? Would you fight for your right to vote?
It is hard to believe now, but at one time, women and girls were not considered persons under Canadian law.
A significant change took place on October 18, 1929, when Canada’s highest court of appeal ruled that women would be included in the legal definition of “persons.” This was an historic victory for women and one that changed the course of Canadian history. And to this day, we mark October 18 as Persons Day.
October is Women’s History Month in Canada and during this month we recognize the monumental contributions of Canadian women and girls over the course of our country’s history. Canada and Peterborough are better places today because of women’s contributions to public life. We all know women and girls who have dreamed big, pursued their dreams, and paved the way for the rest of us, inspiring women like our newly installed Governor General, Julie Payette.
We have so many inspiring women right here in our community, including the women who organize the Persons Day Breakfast, held early in the morning but definitely worth getting out of bed for. Women like Charmaine Magumbe, Chair of the Community and Race Relations Committee of Peterborough who helped organized one of the peace rallies in Peterborough last month; former mayor Sylvia Sutherland, who was the first to raise the Pride flag at City Hall in Peterborough; Lisa Clarke at Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre, where they’ve been believing and supporting survivors for 40 years; Linda Slavin, a social justice activist who has always been ahead of her time; Dawn Lavell-Harvard, the passionate advocate for Indigenous women’s rights and Director of the First Peoples House of Learning at Trent University; and numerous local entrepreneurs like Kyla Gutsche, Brooke Hammer and Andressa Lacerda, who are creating solutions for global issues right here in Peterborough—Kawartha, right now. So I can imagine a Peterborough where every woman and girl is able to reach her full potential.
Nellie McClung famously said: “Yesterday’s successes will not do for today.
While we can be proud of Canadian women’s achievements, and while we should celebrate those trailblazing women in history who fought hard for us to be recognized as persons in 1929, it is important to recognize that there were still many Canadians who continued to face barriers to democracy for far too long after that historic day. Activism for gender equality did not begin, nor did it end, with the Famous Five. That is why we must continue the fight today. It is why I cannot celebrate Persons Day without acknowledging that Indigenous peoples, women included, did not get the vote until March of 1960. So on this Persons Day, I am also thinking about reconciliation.
To start, we must recognize that reconciliation is not just about the relationship between government and Indigenous peoples – non-Indigenous people have an essential role to play in how we shape our future. We need to work together, to listen, and to recognize the knowledge we all bring to the process. Only then, can we move forward together. And women play a leadership role in this process.
I’ve just returned from the UN. The world is looking to Canada for this leadership. Our government’s feminist approach is recognized and in some places emulated.
Our government has received its mandate and inspiration from Canadians. The most important change we can collectively take part in is cultural change. That means facing and changing stereotypes and harmful norms that hold our daughters back. One way to do that is by having a conversation that celebrates women and girls who’ve continued the Famous Five’s legacy.
I invite you to celebrate Women’s History Month by joining the conversation on social media using #claimyourplace. Tell us your stories, share what equality means to you, and celebrate the stories of those who inspire you.
The world is watching—let’s show them what we can do when we come together.
This story originally appeared in the Peterborough Examiner as a guest column.