Women’s Rights and Fight for Equality in Today's World

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • History
  • Masculinity and Misogyny
  • Montreal Massacre
  • Global Civil Society
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography


For centuries, women have fought tremendously for equal rights and treatment as men. However, even today, after having various legal documents in place, women continue to struggle living their lives as their counterparts. Furthermore, women face extreme hatred from some men on virtue of their gender. To support these arguments, this essay will, first, provide some history on women’s rights in Canada by discussing the three waves of feminism and the Persons case. Second, this paper will explain the international treaty of Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which was seen a huge victory for women around the world. Third, this paper will examine the crucial concepts of masculinity and misogyny which can be interpreted as fuel for the hatred some men have for women. Fourth, this essay will look at the cases of the École Polytechnique massacre (“Montreal Massacre”) and the Toronto van attack to the hatred for women exists. Lastly, this paper will explore the actions being taken by the White Ribbon Campaign bring an end to violence against women on a global scale.

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If one is asked, “when were women not granted some, if not all, human rights?”, one would be inclined to answer by referring to historical time periods, most likely hundreds and thousands of years ago. The unfortunate truth is that even less than a century ago, in developed countries, like Canada, women were not recognized as humans altogether. This led to the initiation of the three of waves of feminism. The first wave refers to the movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries, which mainly centered around women’s suffrage – the rights to vote, safe working conditions and education. A prominent case from this era is the Persons case. In 1928, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that since the definition of the word, “persons,” under the British North America Act (BNA Act) did not include women, therefore they were not eligible to be admitted into Canadian senate. In 1929, five women from the province of Alberta, Emily Murphy, Irene Marryat Parlby, Nellie Mooney McClung, Louise Crummy, and Henrietta Muir Edwards (collectively known as the “Famous Five”) brought forward a petition to challenge this definition’s constitutionality. The Famous Five ultimately appealed the case to the highest Court of Canada at the time, the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom. This case was monumental because it expanded beyond the issue of the Canadian Senate, becoming a landmark precedent for almost all cases that would arise in the future regarding the rights of women. The Court ruled in the favour of the Famous Five and overturned the previous decision made by the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. The second wave in the late 1960s to the early 1980s focused on the inequality of laws, inequality of cultures and the role of women in society. … Lastly, the third wave, from the 1990s to present time, is informed by a post-colonial contemporary mindset and addresses embracing individualism and diversity. …


These gender inequalities have continued to persist despite the establishment of various legal entities. For example, The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) came into effect on December 3rd, 1981 as a United Nations international treaty. The participating member states agreed to take all measure in order to respect, protect and fulfill a list of women’s rights. Due to this, the CEDAW is often referred to as the “women’s bill of rights.” To date, 187 countries from the United Nations have signed and ratified the treaty.

Masculinity and Misogyny

From the moment one is born, one is socialized according to gender. Subconsciously, humans are in pursuit of what they believe to be the “correct” journey of their gender. For example, men are rewarded for showcasing their physical strength, dominance, athleticism and for their sexual prowess. Women, on the other hand, are encouraged to be obedient, express vulnerability, seek help when needed and be guarded about their sexuality. A recent study conducted in the United States revealed that 47% of boys, aged 14 to 19 years, heard a male family member make sexual jokes or comments towards women at home. These boys were also more likely to feel pressured to embrace these sexist remarks themselves. It was concluded that these stereotypical gender norms encouraging children to act in certain ways, can lead to a self-propagating viscous cycle promoting further gender inequality. It is this self-propagating viscous cycle that also promotes misogyny. Misogyny is the “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.” Misogyny is responsible for many of the cases women face violence from men.

Montreal Massacre

Unfortunately, CEDAW would be proved unsuccessful in preventing unprovoked attacks against females by male perpetrators in the later years. A key case exemplifying this is the École Polytechnique massacre that occurred in Montreal, Quebec on December 6th, 1989. Marc Lepine stormed into the engineering university, affiliated with the Universite de Montreal, and murdered 14 young women before committing suicide. Officials and authorities would later make gruesome discoveries behind Lepine’s actions. Witnesses revealed that when Lepine entered the classroom, he ordered all men to go to one side of the room and women to the other. Lepine’s isolation of women was an integral part of his horrific plan. In addition, at Lepine’s residence, a list was found which he had prepared of other women’s names, many well-known in the province of Quebec, whom he had also planned to kill. Lepine’s hate crime left behind a profound and painful human tragedy and sent shockwaves throughout the nation. Therefore, the CEDAW treaty, which outlines that “state parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in order to ensure to them equal rights to men in the field of education and in particular to ensure” has not been upheld in its perfect sense as demonstrated by the Montreal massacre. Another case directly related to misogyny is the van attack that happened on April 23rd, 2018, in North York, Toronto. Alek Minassian drove on the sidewalk of Young Street with a rental van, driving over pedestrians, killing 10 and injuring 14. It was soon unveiled a vast majority of the victims of the incident were women. Authorities also found in their investigation, Minassian was an active user on an online blog that widely and openly promoted misogyny.

Global Civil Society

Global Civil Society (GCS) promote healthy practices of human rights where violations are occurring in hope of bringing an end to human rights violations. GCS actors can be ordinary civilians protesting human rights violations or larger-scale organizations and movements with the same purpose of influencing human rights in their societies. GCS actors try to lessen the disparities between rights agreed upon in treaties and real-life practices by creating awareness of the violations through protests and petitions. It is this awareness that ultimately changes people’s mindsets and their actions towards the violations in question. The White Ribbon Campaign (WRC), founded in London, Ontario, was created directly in response to the École Polytechnique massacre (cite the WRC source). The WRC is the world’s largest movement spearheaded by males working to end violence against women, promoting gender equality, healthy relationships and a new vision of masculinity.


In today’ society, women not only have to still fight for equal rights and equal treatment to men, but also be scared for their safety. This paper looked at the history of rights of women in Canada as a foundation to the CEDAW. This paper then argued having the CEDAW is great, however, it is not successful in its true form. Cases of the Montreal massacre and the Toronto van attack were discussed to make that argument evident. There is still hope and efforts being made by many, including the GCS discussed in this paper, to stop these unreasonable human rights violations and respect and follow the guidelines of the CEDAW to its full potential. At the same time, new research has pointed to girls feeling more empowered than in the past and facing less gender rigidity than boys.


  1. Glasius, M., & Lettinga, D. (2016). Human Rights: Politics and Practice (3rd ed., pp. 148-160). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  2. Kroløkke, Charlotte, and Anne Scott Sørenson. “Three Waves of Feminism: From Suffragettes to Grrls.” Contemporary Gender Communication Theories & Analyses: From Silence to Performance, 2005.
  3. “Montreal Massacre : Legacy of Pain.” CBC (The Fifth Estate), 20 Feb. 2019,
  4. Rampton, Martha. “Four Waves of Feminism.” Pacific Journal, 2008,
  5. “The Lone Wolf.” CBC (The Fifth Estate), 15 Feb. 2019,
  6. “What We Stand For.” Global Fund for Women, 25 Feb. 2019,

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