The first meeting of the CASCA Women’s Network was organized in 1984, with Elvi Whittaker as its first coordinator. In 2008, she recalled the network’s beginnings: “It was certainly time to start one. It was late. Other people had had one for fifteen or twenty years.”

The first items of business were:

  • selecting a member for the Social Science Federation of Canada Task Force on the elimination of sexism in the social sciences;
  • surveying women’s studies programs, courses, and research in Canada;
  • discussing women’s issues in academic politics.

Forty-one women attended that first meeting, which must have represented a significant proportion of all Canadian anthropologists.

In 1986, Joan Ryan (1932-2005) took up leadership of the Women’s Network. She sent a questionnaire out to all 35 anthropology departments in Canada. While the response rate was low, representing mainly middle-range anglophone universities, the results were revealing:

  • the respondents’ departments had more female than male graduate students (161 : 115), but equal numbers of men and women held teaching assistantships;
  • only 15 of their 37 full professors were women;
  • only 11.5 of their 71 associate professors were women.

Equity increased down the ranks, however:

  • 12 out of 15 assistant professors were women;
  • 10 women and 10 men were reported as sessional instructors.


Nearly thirty years after the first survey in 1986, it is time to re-assess the status of women in Canadian anthropology. Members of the Women’s Network presented preliminary research at the CASCA meetings in 2009 which suggests that:

  • there are still significantly lower numbers of women in higher ranks or getting jobs at all in relation to the number of female graduates in the discipline;
  • pay equity has still not been achieved.

Women carry the burden of a disproportionate workload which reflects the feminization of a growing labour pool of second-class citizens within academia more broadly: those who occupy the ever-increasing ranks of limited-term appointments or work as research and lab assistants.

Members of the CASCA Women’s Network have made significant scholarly contributions to the discipline. They have increased the visibility of women’s and feminist research in sessions at our annual meetings and in internationally recognized publications (see Further Reading).


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