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Women’s History Month

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The theme of this year’s women’s history month, Strong Girls, Strong Canada: Leaders from the Start, emphasizes the importance and potential of girls. It builds on the goals of the International Day of the Girl to celebrate the roles of girls in their communities.

What does history mean to you?

While historians would generally agree that it’s the study of the past, ideas about which aspects of the past are worth studying have changed over time. For millennia, history was written almost exclusively by men, and for them, history was mostly about politics, military conquest, exploration and innovation. The people whose lives and actions got the most attention from historians were those in positions of power, leaving most women on the sidelines.

In recent decades, the historical focus has shifted. Historians have become deeply interested in filling in the “gaps” of previous histories by studying the people whose experiences and contributions were too often overlooked.

 Inuit women at Great Whale River

This photograph of Inuit women at Great Whale River was taken by A.A. Chesterfield, a fur trader who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Until recent decades, the role these women played in their communities, and in northern Canadian exploration and trade, was often overlooked in historical accounts.
Library and Archives Canada/e008299878

 

This is where women’s history comes in. It encourages us to learn about outstanding women and to learn about the past from the perspectives of women.

While women in Canada have had certain experiences in common, their lives and the opportunities available to them have also been affected by their race, ethnicity, citizenship, class, age, ability and sexual orientation.

 Four women at a Finnish immigrant home

Historians interested in women’s lives are careful to remember that the collective and individual experiences of, for example, these four women at a Finnish immigrant home in Montreal, could have been very different from women elsewhere in Canada during this same period.
Kangas, Victor / Library and Archives Canada/PA-127086

 

This October marks the twentieth annual celebration of women’s history month in Canada. By devoting a month to raising awareness about women’s history, we make a statement that women and girls have done important things in the past, and will continue to do so in the present and future.  We tell women and girls that they are powerful and valued.

 

 Woman supporting the demand for paid maternity leave

Women have played an important role in shaping our understanding of rights in Canada.  Here, a woman supports the Canadian Union of Postal Workers’ demand for paid maternity leave in 1981.
Photo courtesy of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW)

 

This is especially relevant, because October 11 will be the first-ever International Day of the Girl. The United Nations has chosen this day to celebrate girls’ leadership and contributions in their communities, and to point out that protecting the human rights of girls benefits their entire community.

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