Canada 2017·Video

Looking back on 50 years since the Royal Commission on the Status of Women

What's changed? What hasn't?

Bird Commission 10 years later: perspective and constitutional change

32 years ago
Duration 4:20
Ten years have passed since the Bird Commission released its final report. Some recommendations have succeeded while others remain unresolved.

2017 may be our 150th anniversary as a nation, but it's also the 50th anniversary of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. Convened in 1967, this three-year consultation with women across the country led to a 488-page report and 167 separate recommendations designed "to ensure for women equal opportunities with men in all aspects of Canadian society."

Recommendations included measures to ensure pay equity, eliminate violence against women, increase representation in government and eliminate barriers for Indigenous women.

So, 50 years later, what's changed? What hasn't? Watch the video above, or keep reading.

The caveat: There were some major holes in the commission report.  For woman of colour, the commission didn't delve into issues of systemic racism.  Nor did it tackle the specific needs of women arriving as refugees.  And the LGBTQ community was completely ignored. Had the commission been held even 10 years later, marginalized communities might have been more prominently represented.

Representation in government

It took a while, but the federal government increased representation on all government boards, departments, commissions, councils, advisory committees and task forces. They also created a Ministry for the Status of Women. In case there was any doubt as to how much this recommendation was needed, the first four Ministers for the Status of Women were men.  And it took just a little while to achieve gender equality in the federal cabinet. Like, 48 years.

Pay equity and employment access

Women in 1967 were clearly earning less pay for the same job. Today? It's illegal to pay women less for the same work, or hire based on gender.  But in practice that wage gap still exists, and access by women to higher paying professions is problematic.

Indigenous women

Based on the Commission's recommendations, a woman's status under the Indian Act can no longer be taken away just because she married someone without it. Other recommendations, such as access to education and training programs, continue to face barriers to effective implementation.

Violence Against Women

Prior to the commission, a man could not be charged with certain sexual offences unless the victim was a woman of "previously chaste character." This phrase was eliminated on the commission's recommendation… 13 years later. 

Overall

For all its flaws, the Commission Report was a major leap forward in recognizing the unique barriers women faced in Canada. As human rights lawyer Pamela Cross wrote in 2000: "Many women found their first political voices through connections with the Commission, and many more found their lives enriched because of its work."

And we'll leave the last word to Commission Chair Florence Bird.

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