How Did WW1 Effect Women?

Harshdeep Sidhu

The First World War was an event that occured during a time that started women's rights in Canada. Before the war, women were treated unfairly and it was thought that men were superior to women. When the men left for war, women took over the workforce, but they were given lower wages. However, this war was the reason women noticed the inequality in the workforce and finally took action.

Roles of Women Before The War

Before the first world war occured, many women did not work because they were looked upon as motherly figures and were the care takers of their families. They were expected to be responsible for household chores like cooking, washing dishes and doing laundry. Although many women were housewives, some women actually did work, but they were not able to work at any job that was considered to only be appropriate for men. "Women also did not have the right to vote because men thought they were superior to women and that women had no place in politics because it was outside the home. "1

The Impact of Women During The War

Women in the Workforce
During this time, women's rights were being more recognized. The men had left to fight in the war and women were now working in jobs mostly reserved for men. "They had jobs like nurses, factory workers for weapons, railway guards and more."1 In fact, women's employment rates went higher during this time period. "From 23.6% of the working age population in 1914 to between 37.7% and 46.7% in 1919 (Braybon 1989, p.49)"2 "The employment of married women increased - nearly 40% of all women workers by 1918 (Braybon, 1989, p.49)"2
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Lower Wages For Women
Although these women were doing the exact same work as the men in their workforce, they were being paid lower wages. They would be doing the exact same workload as the men would be, yet they weren't be paid the same amount. This began some demands for equal pay and angereed many women. Some women actually refused to work unless they were going to be paid the same as men. It was the sexism in the workforce that made women realize how unfair they were being treated.
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Men Take Over the Workforce Again
As the war finished, men were returning back home to their families and would go back to their work. "Because women were paid less than men, there was a worry that employers would continue to employ women in these jobs even when men returned from war".2 Women were just as capable of doing jobs reserved for men and this created a worry because men thought women were taking over the workforce. However, that did not happen. "Women were sacked to make way for the returning soldiers or women remained working at lower wages than the men alongside them".2

Women's Rights After WW1

After the men returned from World War One, they returned to their jobs and the number of female workers in the the industry declined. Once again, there was inequality in the way men and women were treated in the workforce. Men were seen as stronger individials and women were given lower wages for the same work as men. Women did take action and demand for equal pay and some even went on strikes. Unfortunately, this didn't change the governments perception. “Although unemployment benefit had been introduced through the National Insurance Act 1911, women were not eligible for benefits if they refused to take up available jobs in domestic service. All this served to force women back towards what was considered ‘women’s work’ like laundry, dressmaking, domestic work and work in ‘sweated industries’.”4 Aside from that, some job oppurtunities in new industries and workfields did open up for women through the 1920s and 1930s. “The Sex Disqualification Act of 1919 made it somewhat easier for women to go to university and take up professional jobs as teachers, nurses and a few even qualified as doctors. Middle class women benefited from these increased opportunities. During this time women began to get jobs in increasing numbers in the civil service accounting for about a quarter of all such posts by 1935, though these were mostly at clerical and administrative grades rather than the technical and professional jobs which were still dominated by men.”4

Does this have significance today?

Women's rights have come a long way since the time of WW1. Women have the freedom to step outside their house and enjoy life. They can vote, they can apply for any job, and there's equal pay. However, sexism still does exist. It's not something that can be completely destroyed because it's the (foolish) way some people still think. Other than that. women are stronger than ever!
1 "Women's Rights Before, During, and after WWI in Canada," Ontario Human Rights Commission, http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/women’s-rights-during-and-after-wwi-canada. (March 08, 2016).
2 "Striking Women," World War I: 1914-1918, http://www.striking-women.org/module/women-and-work/world-war-i-1914-1918. (March 08, 2016).
3 BBC, “What did World War One really do for women?,” iWonder, http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z9bf9j6. (March 08, 2016).
4 "Striking Women," The Inter-war Years: 1918-1939, http://www.striking-women.org/module/women-and-work/inter-war-years-1918-1939. (March 09, 2016).