Screen Shot 2013-04-25 at 2.56.35 PM


SlutWalks Context

Spark: “I have been told I’m not supposed to say this- however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”- Michael Sanguinetti, Toronto Police Officer, January 24, 2011

Just six weeks after Sanguinetti’s statement, over 3,000 people came together to participate in the first SlutWalk on April 3.

“In just a few months, SlutWalks have become the most successful feminist action of the past 20 years.”- Jessica Valenti

Political and Historical Context In Canada
We chose to analyze the SlutWalks in broader history by discussing their importance in the realm of women’s rights. Below, you will find a brief overview of Canada’s history on women’s rights- from general attitudes, to citizenship, to birth control legislation. General attitudes towards women and the female citizenship are integral aspects leading up to the walks because they illustrate how Canadian women have gained more control over time. The legislation and attitudes surrounding birth control and abortion relate directly to women having the right to have control over their own bodies, a right that is supported by the SlutWalks.

General Attitudes
When the Confederation was established in 1867, the concept of women’s equality was completely absent. In the late nineteenth century, gender equality only went as far as separate spheres for men and women in society. In 1884, the Married Women’s Property Act in Ontario stated women were “weak and liable to be imposed upon by their husbands” (Marsden 2012:6). Legislation at this time was directed towards better protecting women against possible harm from their husbands instead of granting them equality. Women were considered secondary to men in social, political and economic institutions. The only way women could achieve higher status was by having children and being a good mother. However, drastic changes would be made over the course of the next hundred years.

Until 1947, legal status for women was based on one’s husband’s or father’s citizenship. Children would have the same citizenship as their father, but once married women would have the citizenship of her husband. It was not until 1921 when women were allowed to vote in their first federal election. Since the Confederation was based on British laws, if her husband or father was not a British subject, she could lose her right to vote. Finally, in 1947, the Citizenship Act gave women the right to control their own citizenship. During this same year, Asian and Indo-Canadians were eligible to vote in federal elections. However, it was not until 1960 and 1993 respectively when Status Indians and prisoners were given the same right. While this was an advance for women in Canada, it was not complete. Voting was the only avenue through which women had complete equality with men. Constitutionally, equality for men and women did not arrive until the Constitution Act of 1982. This charter spelled out a citizen’s rights and freedoms. Despite equal rights being embedded in the constitution, in reality, women continued to be secondary to men. Despite drastic advances in education, labor force participation, constitutional protections, and women’s suffrage, this notion is still embedded in modern society.

Birth Control and Abortion
The debate over birth control in Canada began in 1892. The Criminal Code stated that abortion was illegal and it was an illegal offense to advertise, sell or dispose of any form of birth control. It wasn’t until Pierre Trudeau brought up the Criminal Law Amendment Act in 1967 that sought to reform previous policies surrounding this issue. Two years later, the act passed, making birth control legal, easing the inequalities of divorce, and making abortion legal under very restrictive conditions.  However, birth control continued to be difficult to get for young and unmarried women. As movements like the Abortion Caravan traveled across Canada raising abortion awareness, social attitudes were beginning to change surrounding premarital sex and further reforms were taking place. The 1967 provision “made it a crime to perform or have an abortion at all stages of pregnancy” but stated that “‘therapeutic’ abortions were lawful, as long as numerous legal prescribed conditions were met” (Martin 2002:336). Under these conditions, a pregnant woman was “obliged to apply to the ‘therapeutic abortion committee’ of an ‘accredited or approved hospital’ and to prove that the continuation of the pregnancy would, or would be likely to, endanger her ‘life or health'” (Martin 2002:336).  In the 1988 Morgentaler case, abortion was de-criminalized and women were given Charter rights towards abortion. Not only was this case a radical legal change in Canada, the symbolic significance was even greater. Women were finally recognized as having full rights in the abortion context and having full control over their reproduction.

Screen Shot 2013-05-06 at 3.02.11 PM