Today marks the 100th anniversary of some womens’ right to vote in Alberta — nearly a decade after the YWCA of Calgary was established.
In the early days of the YWCA, the lack legal status available to women posed disadvantages that required founding leaders to acquire male signatures and guarantees on documents to obtain property and secure financing. The YWCA has been taking great strides since before the women working within our walls were recognized as people or were able to vote.
The YWCA quickly came to the forefront of Calgary’s social service by providing refuge for newcomers and offering English as a second language courses.
As the organization matured, middle-class women became increasingly visible in the public realm of politics and work. The Suffrage Movement was garnering attention and our board members were granted freedoms within their franchise — though the extent is still contested.
The Equal Suffrage Statutory Law Amendment passed on April 19, 1916 – close on the heels of shortly after Manitoba (January 28, 2015) and Saskatchewan (March 14, 1916). Alas, women were given the right to vote and hold provincial office.
THE PROVINCIAL VOTE
It was 1917 before Alberta women were able to exercise their new voting right, during the Alberta general election on June 7. However, the decision did not come without hesitation — as many feared women would not use their votes wisely. Furthermore, they believed women might vote as a “women’s block” to defeat male ambitions.
An article released by the Calgary Herald yesterday highlighted that while the ability to contribute a ballot was foundational to women’s rights in Canada, the exclusion of Indigenous women and women of colour was problematic. Aboriginal women weren’t given the right to vote without losing their status rights until 1960 – and the impact caused by marginalization is still felt today.
THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN POLITICS TODAY
As time has told, governments are more effective when they reflect the demographics they represent. We have achieved gender equality in the federal cabinet — and a record 10 Indigenous MPs were elected to the House of Commons last fall. These are promising feats moving forward.
House representatives such as the Minister for Status of Women, Hon. Patty Hajdu, are a testament to progressive thinking and how far we — all women — have come.
“It’s beneficial to the entire country to have women more engaged in leadership, women succeeding economically and of course addressing violence against women,” Hajdu noted in an interview with The Toronto Star last November.
“I’m confident that we have the political leadership that we need to actually move beyond reports and into action.”
WHERE WE ARE HEADING
The YWCA of Calgary’s steadfast commitment to supporting women was perhaps ahead of its time — and for the past 105 years we have served as a pivotal component of women’s history in Alberta.
Women have come a long way — and still have a ways to go. But, it is encouraging to see our staff, community partners and government working hand-in-hand to move towards a safer, more equitable community for all Calgarians.
For more information read our history or email us for a copy of Creating Cornerstones.