BC Social Studies Lesson Plans

Women’s Rights

Soc.Just. 12


Women’s Rights

Big Idea

Social justice initiatives can transform individuals and systems.

Essential Question

What have been the turning points for women’s rights in Canada?

Learning Standards Content

Students are expected to be able to do the following:

  • Assess and compare the significance of people, places, events, or developments at particular times and places, and determine what is revealed about issues of social justice in the past and present (significance).

Curricular Competencies

Students are expected to be able to do the following:

  • Assess the significance of people, places, events, or developments, and compare varying perspectives on their significance at particular times and places, and from group to group.

Core Competencies

I can identify Canadian women who were trailblazers for women’s rights.

I can analyze significant turning points in women’s rights in Canada.

I can explain what needs to be done to remove barriers to gender equality in Canada today.

First People's Principles of Learning

Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story.
  • Use a Think Pair Share strategy to have student discuss the following:
    • What are some issues that are important to women today?
    • What opinions do you have about these issues?

Part 1: Women’s Suffrage

  • Explain that the Electoral Franchise Act of 1885 prevented Canadian women from voting. Apart from the temporary and selective right to vote granted to women under the Wartime Elections Act  in 1917, women were first granted the right to vote federally in 1918. (However, Asian and Indigenous Women were still excluded for decades.)
  • Write on the board “Right to Vote” along with the synonyms “Suffrage” and “Franchise”.
  • Explain that Nellie McClung was an important advocate of women's rights and suffrage. As a result of her campaigning, Manitoba became the first Canadian province to give women the franchise in 1916.
  • Show Heritage Minute: Nellie McClung (1:01).
  • Ask:
    • How did Nellie McClung challenge “appropriate” gender roles of her time?
    • Why did some people think that women should not be able to vote?
    • What strategies did McClung use to promote women’s right to vote?
  • Explain that in 1916 women in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta achieved the right to vote in provincial elections. The following year women in BC and Ontario got the vote. In 1940, Quebec was the last province to grant women the vote. In 1951, the Northwest Territories became the last territory to do so.
  • Using a Think-Pair-Share strategy, have students discuss possible reasons for regional differences in women achieving the right to vote.
  • Divide students into 5 groups
    • Western Canada
    • Ontario
    • Quebec
    • Atlantic Canada
    • The North
  • Have each group use Women’s Suffrage in Canada to research how and when women gained the vote in their assigned region. Provide students with the handout “Women’s Suffrage in Canada” to record their findings.
  • Afterwards have groups share their findings with the class.
  • Debrief by asking:
    • Why was progress so slow in achieving universal suffrage?
    • Why were the suffrage campaigns in Québec so different from the rest of Canada?
    • What were some of the difficulties faced by the organizations?
    • Who was excluded from the suffrage campaigns?



Part Two: The Person’s Case

  • Show the short video How 5 Women Changed Canada Forever Over a Cup of Tea (2:45).
  • Ask: What was the issue? How did five Canadian women solve this problem?
  • Explain that this group of five Alberta women were plaintiffs in a court case that argued women were “persons” under the British North America Act (now the Constitution Act, 1867) and, therefore, women could Senators. The Persons Case was a groundbreaking case for women’s rights in Canada. The case was brought before the Supreme Court of Canada in 1927. It was decided in 1929 by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, Canada’s highest appeals court at the time. It was a landmark case in the long struggle by women to achieve political and legal equality in Canada. 
  • Provide students with a copy of the handout “The Famous Five”. Show the video Did You Know? - The Famous Five and the Persons Case (6:00) and have students record notes.
  • Divide students into 5 groups:
    • Emily Murphy
    • Nellie McClung
    • Henrietta Muir Edwards
    • Louise McKinney
    • Irene Parlby
  • Provide students with access to The Famous Five Women. Have each group read the profile to identify their person’s contributions to changing discriminatory laws and gaining rights for women in Canada.
  • Have groups present their person’s contributions to women’s rights in Canada.


Part 3: Royal Commission on the Status of Women


Part 4: Gender Equality Today

  • Write on the board the United Nations’ definition of gender equality: equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities for all genders.
  • Ask: Does gender equality exist in Canada today? Use the Barometer Strategy to have students take a stand on this issue.


  • Have students respond in an Exit Ticket: What is the most significant barrier to gender inequality in Canada today?
  • Share the fact that Canada ranks 62nd out of 193 countries for the representation of women in Parliament. At the rate Canada is going, it will take until 2075 for women to hold half the seats. There won’t be gender parity in our lifetimes unless we implement incentives or quotas.
  • Organize a debate on the topic: "Be it resolved that 50% of all parliamentary seats should be reserved for women."

Canada. Status of Women Canada. 2018. “Why does gender equality matter?” https://web.archive.org/web/20200310101558/https://cfc-swc.gc.ca/commemoration/woi-fic/why-pourquoi-en.html

Canada. Status of Women Canada. 2020. “Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada.” https://cfc-swc.gc.ca/commemoration/roycom-en.html

Canada. Status of Women Canada. 2020. “Women in Canadian History: A Timeline.” https://web.archive.org/web/20201008053355/https:/cfc-swc.gc.ca/commemoration/whm-mhf/timeline-chronologie-en.html


CPAC. 2014. “Did You Know? - The Famous Five and the Persons Case.” YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=if_pyx5dm9Y


ESRI Canada. [n.d.] “Canadian Heroines.” https://esrica-marketing.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=57318542d6574515845415220f6e02f7


Forster, Merna. 2017. “Women of Worth.” Canada’s Historyhttps://www.canadashistory.ca/explore/women/women-of-worth


Historica Canada Education Portal. [n.d.] “Women in Canadian History: Education Guide.” https://fb.historicacanada.ca/education/english/women-in-canadian-history/


Historica Canada. [ca.2015?]. “Women’s Suffrage in Canada: Education Guide.” http://education.historicacanada.ca/files/108/Womens_Suffrage.pdf


Historica Canada. 2016. “Heritage Minutes: Emily Murphy.” YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njAO38Og1-k


Historica Canada. 2016. “Heritage Minutes: Nellie McClung.” You Tube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdbG6EIHrbs


Historica Canada Education Portal. 2021. “Nellie McClung.” http://education.historicacanada.ca/en/tools/75?c=32


Morris, Cerise,  "Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada".  In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Article published February 07, 2006; Last Edited March 22, 2016. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/royal-commission-on-the-status-of-women-in-canada  


Public Service Alliance of Canada. 2015. “Canadian Women's History.” https://psac-ncr.com/canadian-womens-history


Strong-Boag, Veronica,  "Early Women’s Movements in Canada: 1867–1960".  In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Article published August 15, 2016; Last Edited August 15, 2016. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/early-womens-movements-in-canada  


Strong-Boag, Veronica, "Women's Suffrage in Canada". In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Article published June 20, 2016; Last Edited August 25, 2016. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/suffrage  


“Timeline: Women's Suffrage.” 2021. The Canadian Encyclopediahttps://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/timeline/womens-suffrage


Women in Canada. 2015. “Women. Are. Persons.” YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFCsMtzA5t0

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Last Reviewed

March 01, 2023

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