Inquiry and Seminar

Mid 1960’s to Mid 1980’s

Women’s Movement Overview - 1960 - 1985

The Second Wave

Corel Website Creator X6The women’s movement had begun in the early 19th century but took on a new life during this era called the Second Wave. Women had gained the vote in 1920 and by this time still had little voice in the country’s political and economic life.

    • 1960 saw the start of the women’s liberation movement in Canada and inspired political action and changed many women’s lives. The movement asked difficult questions that many would rather have ignored. These questions changed society dramatically. As a result of this era equal opportunity and equal rights became the law of the land and a national priority.
    • The women’s movement worked for social justice for women along many different front including political, culture, the mass media, law education, health, the labor force, religion, racism, sexism the environment and home.
    • In Canada the message of second-wave feminism spread widely and was sometimes diluted or distorted. Feminist beliefs also differed from city to city, group to group and even woman to woman. There were, however, some core beliefs.
    • During the second wave feminism in Quebec evolved differently from in the rest of Canada, the focus was more on colonial domination of English Canada.
    • Aboriginal feminism had also taken a different trajectory from the mainstream, white, Anglo-Canadian women’s movement. Aboriginal women have not participated in the movement, in part because Aboriginal women’s organizations have focused on issues related to colonialism and cultural discrimination.
    • Black Canadian women, saw their experiences of racially disadvantaged struggle for equal treatment. They argue their struggle is not only against patriarchy but the racist system.
    • During the 1960s and 1970s, feminists globally and in Canada projected the idea of women’s liberation into the media and the public consciousness.
    • Women’s exclusion from well paying jobs came into consciousness.
    • Women demanded equal job opportunities, equal pay, right to abortion, free childcare and a stop to sexual harassment.
    • Women began to question their traditional roles in society – the workplace, public life and their roles as mothers.
    • Women began to enter the workplace on mass.
    • The women’s movement did not have a single ideology or goal. Some fought for equal job opportunities; others focused on changing relations between men and women.
    • The movement was changing society’s view that a woman’s worth was not based on her physical attractiveness.
    • pro choiceWomen were banding together to voice their control over their bodies. Abortion was illegal until Pierre Trudeau in 1969 became government, and legalized abortion - as long as a committee of doctors signed off that it was necessary for the physical or mental well being of the mother. In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the existing laws were unconstitutional and struck down the 1969 law. 
    • The movement rejected what they called patriarchal values, or men’s values, such as competition, aggressiveness, and selfishness. They believed that women were naturally more nurturing and compassionate and advocated a society based on women’s values.
    • In 1966, Friedan founded and was elected the first president of the NNOWational Organization for Women (NOW), which aimed to bring women "into the mainstream. NOW demanded that the government prosecute cases of job discrimination against women.
    • By the end of the 1960s, Canadian society had begun to adjust to the rebirth of a major social movement, the women's movement.
    • Ten key feminist beliefs that tended to be held by most women in the movement, in most groups and in most cities during the 1960s and 1970s


  • In the early 1970’s the movement was made up of smaller radical groups and then expanded to incorporate women of diverse opinions and from all parts of Canadian Society, including welfare mothers, professional, business and executive women, native women and immigrant domestic workers.
  • equal pay marchBy the mid-1970s, women had achieved some change.
  • In the 1970 Royal Commission on the Status of Women it was reported that 167 recommendations were needed to improve the lives of women.
  • Women in the military had to quit to get married. It was not until 1971 that women in the military were allowed to keep their jobs and get married.
  • In 1970, 39.9% of women aged 15 years and older were part of the labour force.
  • Annual earnings of women working full-time represented only 59.7% of those of men.
  • Numerous strikes for maternity leave and parental leave conducted across Canada.
  • In 1971 Quebec finally allows women jurors after eight Quebec women jailed earlier in the year for protesting all-male jury law.
  • Federal government amends Canadian Labour Code to prohibit sex discrimination, reinforce equal pay for equal work, and establishes a 17-week maternity leave.
  • In 1973 feminist lawyers won a Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, in which women had the constitutional right to choose to have an abortion.
  • Millions of women who never attended a public demonstration used feminist rhetoric and legal victories won by women activists to create greater equality in their marriages and personal lives and to expand their economic and political opportunities.
  • While these events indicate the tremendous progress made by women, the movement is far from over. Women still face discrimination and inequality in the workplace and the glass ceiling still looms over the heads of women.
  • The women's movement has been working for social justice for women along many different fronts, including politics, culture, the mass media, law, education, health, the labor force, religion, the environment and the home. Combining the fight against sexism with a fight against racism has become increasingly important. The organizational structure includes groups of every size and from every region, including national and international ones.
  • In the early 1970s, the movement seemed to consist of smaller radical groups, the movement's base has gradually expanded to incorporate women of diverse opinions and from all parts of Canadian society, including welfare mothers, professional, business and executive women, native women and immigrant domestic workers.
international women's day

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Social Justice