The Women’s Rights series is the second largest series, containing 22 subseries. Subseries are arranged by subject matter and chronology, based on supplied subject titles. Materials were created between 1939 and 2008, and also includes research materials dating from 1800. This series is primarily focused on women’s issues and issues of legal, political, and social equality for women. There is a broad range of topics represented in this series, including women’s roles, workplace sexual harassment, the merit principle, women’s education, women’s employment and career opportunities, women in politics, women in public service, family life, divorce, child custody, effects of sexism on the poor, additional discrimination against aboriginal women, female refugees, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, and the exclusivity of gendered language.
Significant portions of material in this series is research compiled by the HRI and HRI volunteers. These include newspaper clippings, magazine articles, historical legislation, government publications, and articles that discuss and trace how women are viewed, the achievements of women, efforts made by women’s organizations and the federal government to improve the status of women, social issues that have a strong impact on women, changing social values and mores, Senate reform, the Persons Case, and the Famous Five. This series also contains materials created by the HRI including newsletters, memorandum, conference planning materials, press releases and other promotional materials, as well as correspondence between the HRI and various women’s organizations, politicians, and public servants. These materials discuss HRI’s efforts to highlight double standards and unequal treatment to improve equality and equal opportunity for women. The issues covered and perspectives taken in this series are reflective of the feminism of the period.
The main focus of the HRI’s efforts for women’s equality was Persons Case II. This was the HRI’s attempt to bring a case to the Supreme Court of Canada for Senate reform and women’s rights. Persons Case II sought to get a reference to the Supreme Court to decide whether the government was obligated by the equal rights clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to appoint women to Senate on an equal basis as men, as the HRI believed that if women made up half the Canadian Senate they would be able to enact real change. It was named Persons Case II in reference to the Persons Case of 1927- 1929. The Persons Case was fought by the Famous Five and referred to the Supreme Court by Liberal Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. After appealing the initial Supreme Court ruling, the Judicial Committee of the Imperial Privy Council in London, England, overturned the decision and deemed women eligible for appointment to the Senate as persons with all penalties and privileges under the law. Despite gaining significant support for Persons Case II throughout the 1980s and 1990s, various Ministers of Justice and Prime Ministers repeatedly declined to refer the case to the Supreme Court, citing no exceptional circumstances, the issue not being important enough to involve the Supreme Court, and finally, as Prime Minister Jean Chretien did appoint women to the Senate on an equal basis with men, such a reference was seen as unnecessary.