Written by Serina Gourgees
Over the years, women have fought tirelessly to gain equal rights in our society. Just over a century ago, it was not normal for women to work in manufacturing or factories. However, during the First World War, women demonstrated their abilities and skills in the workforce. They worked in dangerous conditions because they, alongside men, had the ability to do so.
Equality was a much greater issue in the past than it is today. The role of women has become more versatile as social expectations changed. Along the way, women have taken advantage of the new opportunities and the roles they could take part in.
Many expectations were brought upon women during the first World War. Before World War One, women were expected to be housewives; staying home with the children and taking care of the house while their husbands were not present or working. During the war, women were needed elsewhere: in the workforce. They quickly rose to the challenge of taking on another role while still taking care of their children and their home. Even when women were paid lower wages than men, women risked dangerous working conditions and served close to the front lines.
Many women served overseas in the Red Cross. Nurses during World War One treated patients near or just behind the frontlines at field hospitals, evacuation centres or clearinghouses. They cared for wounds daily and nursed soldiers that had life-threatening illnesses. A handful of nurses lost their lives from enemy firearms or illnesses and harsh working conditions while working close to the front lines. Some were even captured as prisoners of war.
When the First World War ended, women were expected to give up their jobs to the men who had them before. It was unrealistic for things to go back to normal because of the soldiers’ physical and mental state. Thus, the jobs of men who died or were unfit to work were taken over by women. Although the majority of women lost their jobs and had to return to traditional domestic roles, a change in society was a work in progress.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, women gained the right to vote in political elections. Women were not allowed to vote for several unfair reasons; society believed that they were too weak, vulnerable, overly delicate, and that they would become distracted from their domestic roles. Women possess the ability to vote today because of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. This was just the beginning of the countless battles they endured to become closer to achieving equality. Soon, Feminism—a new idea that women can do anything that men do—originated.
So many new opportunities were available for women during the second World War. A law was issued that allowed women to be a part of military services. The role of women in Canadian society changed dramatically. Canada needed women to support the war effort by working jobs that were traditionally done by men, as well as serving in the military.
Thousands of Canadian women proved they could work the jobs that men do. Women worked in multiple sectors including but not limited to war factories, agriculture, rationing, raising money and scrap drives. Despite their tremendous efforts, these women were still being paid much less than men. Although women made a lot of progress during World War Two, their roles changed yet again when the men came back from war. Women’s employment was usually only encouraged during the wars.
Women continued to fight for equality and empowerment. Although women mainly did not work intense jobs, many women wanted to continue to work if they needed to or if they simply wanted to, even though they were paid lower wages. Women worked as secretaries, waitresses and performed other clerical jobs.
As the years passed, women had more jobs, education and many more different opportunities. We now see women working all types of jobs and we see that equal rights for men and women have arisen as well.
The changing role of women is a significant aspect of Canadian history. If it weren’t for the women in the past, many things wouldn’t be available for the women in our society today. The society we live in today is still judgemental with regard to the role of women. If we keep steering away from these stereotypes, we will truly see what equality is all about between the genders.
We have grown so much from this burden in our history and without it, we will never know what could have happened instead.