Following the report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada (Bird Commission), which was established by the federal government in 1967, the Fédération des Femmes du Québec (FFQ) recommended that the Québec government found a “Women’s Bureau.” Accordingly, Claire Kirkland-Casgrain, the only female member of the National Assembly, introduced Bill 63 (Act respecting the Conseil du statut de la femme) in 1972. However, the bill was not passed until the following parliamentary session.
Mission and Process
The mission of the Council on the Status of Women is twofold: (1) to advise the Government of Québec on all subjects relating to equality and respect for the rights and status of women; and (2) to provide relevant information to women and the public. Furthermore, the council is responsible for alerting the government to all matters that in its opinion warrant government action.
The council is composed of a chairperson, appointed for five years by the Government of Québec, and 10 members (all women) representing universities, unions, socio-economic groups, and women’s associations. The deputy ministers or their delegates — from the departments of Health and Social Services, Education, Labour, Justice, and Employment and Social Solidarity — attend Council meetings as non-voting members. Together, the members and the chairperson establish the council’s policy directions, examine studies conducted by researchers, and approve recommendations and opinions to be presented to the Government of Québec.
Growth, Influence, and Stance on Issues
In 1975 and 1976, the council set the foundations that would guide its policies. Among these was the principle of socio-economic equality, to be achieved through women’s economic independence and access to employment with fair pay. The council also defended the principle that voluntary termination of a pregnancy (see Abortion) should no longer be considered a criminal act; rather, it should be seen as a health service and be made readily available.
In 1979, to be of greater service to women in the province, the council opened offices in a number of cities throughout Québec. In the same year, it launched La Gazette des femmes, a free feminist magazine that features columns, special reports and general interest articles. Converted to a webzine in 2011,La Gazette des femmes continues to address, in a very frank and direct manner, problems affecting women in Québec and around the world. With roughly 1500 articles published since 1990, the website provides readers with a substantial body of research on issues of gender equality.
Over the years, the council has produced a variety of brochures and reports to educate the Québec public on critical social issues. These publications address sexist advertising, educational equality for boys and girls (see Women and Education), violence against women (see Family Violence), prostitution, technological advances and challenges associated with assisted reproduction, sexism, and women’s access to non-traditional jobs.
The council has also become involved in a number of debates, particularly by presenting briefs to the National Assembly, participating in parliamentary committees and talking to the media about current events. It has tackled issues such as the right to abortion, family law reform, employment equality, family policy and day care, the situation of women in the administration of justice, same-sex civil union (see Marriage and Divorce), equitable representation of women in politics, and secularism.
With the assistance of other key players in society, a number of the council’s views have resulted in concrete social measures for women. Such measures include the Pay Equity Act (1996), the creation of a public network of spaces in low-cost daycares (1997), and the Québec Parental Insurance Plan (2006).
The Council on the Status of Women also facilitates discussions between universities and communities. On its 20th anniversary in 1993, the council organized a series of three seminars, (Avec les femmes, de tous les débats) on regional development (in Trois-Rivières, Longueuil and Chicoutimi) and panel discussions on feminism. Five years later, it organized another seminar, entitled Marcher sur les oeufs (Walking on Eggshells), in collaboration with the Institute of Feminist Research and Studies at the Université du Québec à Montréal. The title reflects the fact that participants were invited to speak about issues of feminism, even if it meant drawing attention to the contradictions of the feminist movement. During its 30th anniversary festivities in 2003, the council held a seminar inviting various experts to review the situation and examine new paths toward gender equality. The 35th and 40th anniversaries were marked by various publications on the council’s history and accomplishments.
Every year, the council joins various organizations throughout Québec and the rest of the world to promote International Women’s Day (8 March), the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November), and the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women (6 December).
Throughout its history, several women and feminists of note have chaired the council, such as Claire Bonenfant. In 2016, Eva Ottawa, former grand chief of the Atikamekw Nation, became the first Indigenous woman to chair the council.