The Rise and Stall of Canada's Gender-Equity Revolution

By Guppy, Neil; Luongo, Nicole | Canadian Review of Sociology, August 2015 | Go to article overview

The Rise and Stall of Canada's Gender-Equity Revolution


Guppy, Neil, Luongo, Nicole, Canadian Review of Sociology


IN 1929, AFTER DECADES of cultural and legal exclusion, the Privy Council of the United Kingdom formally acknowledged Canadian women as "persons." Since then changes in gender relations have radically remodeled both Canada and the western world. Women have achieved positions of power, won significant social and legal entitlements, and made their role as vital contributors to the national economy more visible. Yet, even with these advances, full gender parity remains a future achievement: The revolution is unfinished (Hochschild and Machung [1989] 2012; see also England 2010; Esping-Andersen 2009).

The full success of the gender-equity revolution matters for several reasons, the most important being that arbitrary inequalities violate basic human rights. Additionally, attaining full gender equity will enable women to contribute more fully to economic development and to overall societal well-being. Promoting gender equality for all helps to improve the lives of doubly or triply marginalized populations, including those who are differently abled or experience ancestral, racial, ethnic, or class-based discrimination.

We address three distinct but interrelated issues. We begin by examining progress toward gender parity in Canada. We do this by charting gender equity over time along various key dimensions and, briefly, by assessing the evolution of gender-related policy provisions. The dimensions are as follows: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment, and domestic labor.

Although an extensive body of research exists on each separate dimension (e.g., Baker 2011b; Benoit 2000; Fortin and Huberman 2002), this is the first time comparative Canadian historical data of this sort has been assembled to chart broad trends in gender equity. We thus offer an analysis of gender equity that is comprehensive, quantifiable, and historical. It is also theoretically informed, as we critically examine how far the movement toward gender egalitarianism has reached and why it has recently stalled and been significantly uneven. Finally, we conclude by recommending policy interventions for reigniting the revolution. By linking historical data to future policy, we contribute a long-range overview of gender relations in Canada that is not available elsewhere.

Several assumptions underlie our project. First, charting the position of women relative to men, as we do, effectively asks about the "masculinization" of women's lives. It further dichotomizes gender and sexuality, an assumption that is increasingly problematic in view of transgendered identities and greater sexual fluidity (Siltanen and Doucet 2008). We proceed on the grounds that the opportunities of women and men ought to be equal, although not necessarily the same, and that assessing such equality requires comparison. Second, the grounds for comparison are not gender blind. The evidence we use, official statistics for the most part, privileges certain ways of understanding while limiting others (e.g., what counts as labor force participation is historically gendered; see Thomas 2010). Third, a more nuanced research design would make more central the feminization of men's lives and would recognize that women and men lead lives that are crosscut by a range of other social determinants, be they ancestry, disability, or social class. Historically, the struggles of marginalized communities have been erased or co-opted by homogenizing social forces that benefit the lives of the more powerful, particularly white, middle, and upper class women and men. The consequence of all this, however, is that a historical project entailing a more nuanced research design would be impossible given the quality of the evidence accessible.

GENDERED TRAJECTORIES: THEORY AND METHOD

Canada's gender-equity revolution has provided greater autonomy for women. It began with the simple recognition of women, as symbolized by the Person's Case (1929), and subsequently expanded to include benchmarks of equality and inclusion. …

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