Statement from Irene Mathyssen on the 30th Anniversary of the Women’s Constitution Conference

Today, we celebrate with women and men across Canada, the 30th Anniversary of the Women’s Constitution Conference held on February 14, 1981. During this conference, women from across the nation gathered to discuss the new Constitution, which led to a year-long lobby of the government to include equality provisions for women in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, primarily Section 28:

“Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.”

The Constitution Conference was originally organized by the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women (CACSW), a federal arm’s length advisory council, but was cancelled through government interference. This did not deter outraged women’s groups who formed the Ad Hoc Committee of Canadian Women on the Constitution. Their goal was to go ahead with the conference despite government opposition.

The Ad Hoc Committee mobilized support from across the country for the conference and in the end, over 1,000 women attended.

Not only did the conference participants put forward the resolution that led to Section 28, but many other resolutions were drafted to advance women’s equality, including the appointment of more women to boards and commissions, and the revocation of Section 12(1)(b) of the Indian Act which stripped Aboriginal women of band status if they married non-status men. Several women MPs, including the NDP’s Pauline Jewett and Margaret Mitchell were actively involved with the Ad Hoc Committee which pressured the government to adopt the equality provisions.

Without the hard work and determination of women during and after the Constitution Conference to lobby for stronger entrenchment of women’s equality, we would not have the provisions that are guaranteed today in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We give thanks to the women and men who took action to achieve this important milestone in Canadian history.

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