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BIPOC Women and the Right to Vote in Canada

When I was in tenth grade history, I learned about the women’s suffrage movement in Canada. In class I was taught about the advocacy for women’s right to vote. 

I had heard about the movement before, of course, but learning about it in high school helped build the interest in feminism I have today. However, at one point I realized that I wasn’t educated on the experiences that Black people, Indigenous people and other people of colour (as well as other minorities) went through during the suffrage movement.

I don’t blame my teacher for this, personally – especially considering the volume of history that curriculums require to be taught about our country, and the fact that the histories of minorities don’t tend to make it on that list. So, in the spirit of International Women’s Day this year, I’ll be focusing on BIPOC women’s suffrage. 

These stories are just as important as the ones we learn about in school. I’ll only be able to scratch the surface with this article, and encourage you to keep researching and familiarizing yourself with intersectional feminism. 

A Brief Lesson in History

According to the article “Right to Vote in Canada” by John C. Courtney, most women in Canada were given the right to vote for federal elections in 1918. Although, federally, “non-status Indians” have only been allowed to vote from 1950, and 1960 for “status Indians.” Inuit people were also technically given those rights in 1950, but it wasn’t recognized or accessible until 1962.

In the article by Courtney and the “Women’s Suffrage” timeline, it is noted that it wasn’t until 1949 where all Asians under South Asians, Chinese and Japanese Canadians could vote on a federal scale (non concurrently). Black women were allowed to participate in federal voting since 1918, but the stigma associated with their race affected the rights they had. 

Women to Know

There are many BIPOC women in Canada that have advocated for their rights and have been the first to represent their communities in the political landscape.

According to the timeline, Mary Ann Shadd was a publisher in the 1850s who used her voice to talk about the women’s right to vote. She also talked about other things related to Canada’s Black community. Another example from the timeline is Vivienne Poy, she was the first Asian-Canadian to become a senator and took on the role in 1998.

The final example I’ll mention which the timeline discusses is Mary Two-Axe Earley. Since 1972, Earley has been distinguished as an Indigenous activist who has helped her community fight against prejudicial legislation.Shadd, Poy and Earley are only a few examples – there are countless more, both in history and still fighting for women’s rights today. 

Back to the Present

The suffrage movement is only one account of the issues faced by minorities in feminism. To this day, BIPOC still come across unique challenges and feel the aftermath of the past. In addition to race, gender equality issues become much more complex when considering class, neurodiversity, sexual orientation etc…

While we’ve come pretty far, we’re still a ways away from where we want to be. To make these disparities smaller, we must continue to learn about them and the histories behind them. As I get older, I realize that there are things that I didn’t include in my perspective of feminism before and I encourage you to examine your perspective too – not just on International Women’s Day, but every day.. 

The historical facts, dates, figures, and information used in this article are drawn from the Canadian Encyclopedia, unless otherwise stated. 

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Bashira Tahiya

U Ottawa '25

Bashira is a first year student studying marketing. She loves talking about beauty, social issues and wellness. It's only her first year on Her Campus, but she already loves it!
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