Equality, Equity, and the Royal Commission on the Status of Women
From: 1968 in Canada
In 1968, Canadian women addressed women’s equality in the spotlight of a royal commission’s public hearing process. Predominantly white, married women spoke truth to power in unprecedented ways. Their spokespersons were filmed for television, recorded for radio, and their views reported in newspaper and magazine articles across the country; women made news. The sole Black women known to have addressed the Royal Commission on the Status of Women (RCSW) spoke up in support of the one of the largest, long-established, vocal, and nationally recognized Black communities in Canada at the time. Carrie Best, a Black Nova Scotian journalist, pointed to the economic insecurity of local Black communities and Indigenous communities. Their long-standing grievances ought to have been front and centre in any meaningful discussion of gender equality in her view. Such an analysis was marginalized in the RCSW’s public consultation that ran from April through October. Best called for equity through community development and the intentional elimination of racial discrimination. She challenged the RCSW study’s liberal approach that focused on white women by pointing to the need to uproot structural inequality originating in enslavement and colonization to identify racism as the primary cause of poverty and human degradation in Canada. The chapter summarizes the creation of the RCSW, its purpose, and scope, followed by a discussion of the public-engagement process and then, briefly, long-lasting legacies of the royal commission’s work that began the shift from equality of opportunity to considerations of equity as a way station on the long, lonesome road toward substantive social justice.
Jane Arscott is Professor at Athabasca University, Canada’s Open University, located in Alberta. Her work concerns the election and appointment of women in public life. She advocates for a next-generation gender-equality agenda to carry forward the one produced by the Royal Commission on the Status of Women a half-century ago. Her interest in dissent, centralization and self- government, and freedom of political association is expressed in her published work, including The Presence of Women (Harcourt Brace, 1997), Still Counting (Broadview, 2003), and Stalled (UBC Press, 2013).