A Controversial Celebration of Women’s Suffrage

Statue of Nellie McClung on Parliament Hill

Statue of Nellie McClung on Parliament Hill

On January 28, 2014, the Manitoba Women’s Advisory Council is hosting a celebration of the 98th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Manitoba which was won on January 28, 1916. Manitoba was the first Canadian province to grant women the right to vote thanks to the efforts of Nellie McClung, the other women of the Famous Five, and countless men and women who supported suffrage.

This year’s celebration has recently come under fire from the Provincial Opposition PC party for playing “fast and loose” with the Elections Act and hosting a “political” event on the same day as byelections in two Manitoba ridings.

Without getting into the Elections Act or the PC’s criticism, it does seem fitting that the suffrage anniversary should come with some controversy. If the day came and went without naysaying, it just wouldn’t be an accurate experience of the day!

Women and men worked together to advance the rights of women for decades before suffrage was fully realized in Manitoba. They worked against the prejudices of the status quo by relentlessly presenting their ideas to those who were opposed to women voting. When suffrage was won, not every Manitoban was excited about the milestone including former premiere Sir Rodmond Roblin, who thought “nice women don’t want the vote”.

Perhaps the latest controversy over January 28 can be a reminder of all the controversies that we have yet to work through. Manitoba may have been the first province to win women’s suffrage, but its capital is currently a part of the UN Safe Cities project because we know that this is not always a safe place for women and girls. Manitoba’s rates of police-reported domestic violence are twice as high as the national average. There is an epidemic of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada, many of whom were from Manitoba.

On January 28, 2014, we can all celebrate the history of Manitobans standing up for the rights of women and take this occasion to be inspired to keep working for a safe and empowering Manitoba for every citizen.

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