Challenges remain 100 years after women won the right to vote in Alberta

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Challenges remain 100 years after Alberta women won the right to vote
Tue, Apr 19: Alberta is often thought of as Canada's Conservative stronghold, but 100 years ago Tuesday, it became the third province to give women the vote, right after Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Sarah Offin reports on the centennial and the strong voices who continue the fight for equality – Apr 19, 2016

Politics have, no doubt, come a long way since 1916. In those days, women like the historic Famous Five, were gathering at Nellie McClung’s Calgary home, fighting to secure the right for women in Alberta to vote.

Those women, along with many others, succeeded 100 years ago, Tuesday.

“It was the same day when prohibition passed,” Susan Reckseidler, manager of interpretation at Heritage Park said while thumbing through an archive from the Calgary Herald.

There, buried under the headlines, was the news a law “to provide for equal suffrage” had passed. Canadian women were now allowed to participate in the democratic process.

Nellie McClung’s historic home still stands in downtown Calgary, next to high-rise apartments and the hustle and bustle of nearby 17 Avenue.

A replica home, The Famous Five Centre of Canadian Women, opened at Heritage Park in 2014. On Tuesday, it hosted public tours and a chance for school children to listen to audio recordings of the Famous Five’s historic meetings.

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Sculpture of Nellie McClung at the Manitoba Legislative Building. File / Global News

READ MORE: Famous 5 showcases historic ‘pink tea’ conversations in immersive audio experience 

“It was quite common for the women to gather at one another’s homes. They would gather over tea – [with] lots of pink and frill and refinery, so to discourage the men folk from attending and lending their comments,” Reckseidler said.

It would be another 10 years before women were able to hold public office and almost a century before gender equity was achieved in the federal cabinet. Why? “Because it’s 2015,” quipped Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last November.

And yet, only 26 per cent of seats in the House of Commons are currently held by women.

“We still lag very far behind in encouraging women to run for political office. Not only is it more expensive for women to run, they often don’t have the same kind of support – internally -in their own party,” Dr. Rebecca Sullivan, a professor of women’s studies at the University of Calgary said.

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In the last provincial election, 51 per cent of voters were women.

On May 5, 2015, Alberta elected its second female premier, Rachel Notley. It was little more than a year after the first – Alison Redford – stepped down amid tough criticism and disapproval from much of her Progressive Conservative party.

“The negative comments against women politicians are utterly out of control,” Sullivan said. “We saw it here in Alberta with the kind of hateful, threatening comments that were made against Rachel Notley and other members of her cabinet – comments about their weight, about their health, threats to their lives, threats of sexual violence… Men do not receive these kinds of threats.”

READ MORE: Farm safety bill spurs death threats against Alberta premier 

Sullivan also said data shows that women who speak up in meetings and voice their opinions are often considered “bossy” and “abrasive” by their male counterparts.

As Albertans reflect on Tuesday’s centennial, there’s hope strong, historic voices from the past will continue to echo into the future.

“Ladies raise your cups – to our daughters, and their daughters after them – who will be considered people.” – Nellie McClung


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