Our history

Historically NAWL’s operations and work have been supported by: public funding primarily from the federal government, membership fees, and funds received from foundations, individuals, and other sources from time to time.

March 14, 1974

Founding of NAWL

NAWL founded at a conference at the University of Windsor Law School held on March 14 to 16, 1974. Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau sent a letter to the organizers extending his "warmest greetings" on the occasion of the conference.

January 30 — February 2, 1975

NAWL's First Biennial Conference on "Women and Labour"

1975 was the International Women’s Year and marked NAWL’s 1st Biennial Conference. Women from across Canada united together in Winnipeg at the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Law. Lynn Kaye — one of the NAWL co-founders and a then second year student at the University of Ottawa — made the address to the conference, which was co-chaired by Laurie Allen and Shawn Greenberg. After this conference, NAWL was able to create a body of policies that gave the organization form and direction.

January 27 - 30, 1977

NAWL's Second Biennial Conference on "Human Rights"

The University of Ottawa's Faculty of Law hosted NAWL’s 2nd Biennial Conference on the theme of human rights. There, resolutions were passed on human rights, equal pay for work of equal value, abortion and rape. At this conference, NAWL’s constitution, by-laws, structures and policies were further developed, and the first National Steering Committee (NSC) was elected.

February 1977

Publication of First Jurisfemme Newsletter

The issue contained NAWL’s resolutions and updates on NAWL’s lobbying activities, including the brief submitted on the Federal Human Rights Bill (C-25) which supported the passage of the bill with several amendments.

February 22 - 25, 1979

NAWL's Third Biennial Conference on "Women and Property"

Topics of matrimonial property, insurance, pensions, estate planning, and proposed amendments to the sexual assault provisions of the Criminal Code were discussed at NAWL’s 3rd Biennial Conference in Calgary. NAWL, the Status of Women Council (SWC) and the Rape Crisis Centre (RCC) also put forth a position paper on the sexual offences amendments.

February 8, 1980

Ontario Regional Conference

On the weekend of February 8, 1980, NAWL’s Queen’s University caucus hosted the Ontario Regional Conference. Discussions centred around affirmative action in law schools and Canadian society more broadly. After the conference, participants sent a telegram to Prime Minister Bill Davis, Ontario Minister of Labour Robert Elgie, and Chairperson of the Standing General Government Committee Bruce McCaffrey. In the telegram, participants called for the return of Bill 3, which sought to amend the Employment Standards Act to reflect equal pay for work of equal value.

November 1980

Submission of a brief on "Women's Human Right to Equality: A Promise Unfulfilled" to the Special Joint Committee on the Constitution

Brief stated that NAWL could not "endorse the entrenchment of a Charter as poorly articulated and substantively inadequate as this one" and outlined changes that could improve the proposed 1982 Charter legislation.

December 12, 1980

NAWL's Appearance before the Special Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons

At the hearing, Deborah Acheson presented NAWL’s brief, which consisted of the resolutions passed at the Ontario Regional Conference on Women and the Constitution earlier that year. The Committee responded favourably to NAWL’s demand for proportional representation of women on the Supreme Court of Canada — a response which had a positive ripple effect on Charter discussions the following year.

February 20 - 23, 1981

NAWL's Fourth Biennial Conference on "The Cost of Being a Woman"

The conference was held in Halifax and focused on the social, economic and political costs of being a woman. In particular, parenting, ageing, health care, and income tax issues were discussed. Additionally, NAWL reviewed the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its effect on women.

February 23 - 26, 1983

NAWL's Fifth Biennial Conference on "Women in the Workforce: Affirmative Action and Parental Benefits"

Held in Victoria, this conference focused on affirmative action, parental benefits and pensions for women. NAWL updated its constitution at the conference.

July 3, 1984

Incorporation of NAWL as a Non-Profit

NAWL incorporates as a not-for-profit organization under the former Canada Corporations Act.

February 21 - 24, 1985

NAWL's Sixth Biennial Conference on "Who's in Control? Legal Implications of Reproduction and Technology"

Held in Ottawa, the conference focused on the challenges posed to women by new reproductive technologies and changing social values. For example, the effects of prenatal diagnosis on decisions related to pregnancy, methods of childbirth, the rights of pregnant women and reproductive hazards in the workplace.

July 1985

Submission of Brief on "The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: Not Just Words on Paper" to the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Equality Rights

This brief analyzed the Charter and its implications for women, including need for the proscribed grounds of discrimination in Section 15(1) to include martial status and sexual orientation. The brief was written by Dianne Young, Gisela Ruebsaat, Bartha Knoppers, Louise Lamb, Connie Reeve, Gretchen Pohlkamp, Devora Solem and Gwen Brodsky.

February 19 - 22, 1987

NAWL's Seventh Biennial Conference on "Section 15 - Equality in the Criminal Justice System and the Workplace: Fact or Fantasy?"

Held in Winnipeg, this conference focused on the assessment of the repercussions of Section 15 of the Charter, based on NAWL’s recommendations. Discussions centred around criminal law, labour law, and the degree to which gender bias prevails in the courts and the legal profession. At the conference, a resolution passed to integrate issues of sex bias and the impact of sex discrimination on women into judicial education programs.

February 16 - 19, 1989

NAWL's Eighth Biennial Conference on "Women and Law, International Perspectives, Towards Equality"

Held in Montreal, the conference centred on the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). As the first international treaty of its kind, CEDAW recognized the principle of equality of rights for women and men and the principle of non-discrimination against women. The treaty included specific provisions aimed at condemning and eliminating discrimination in the economic, social, cultural, civil and political spheres of life. At the conference, NAWL discussed: (1) the rights of women with respect to their work and health; (2) the problems of multiple discrimination faced by lesbians; and (3) Indigenous women and women of visible minorities.

February 21 - 24, 1991

NAWL's Ninth Biennial Conference on "The Feminization of Poverty"

Held in Toronto, the conference’s substantive theme centred on the feminization of poverty. Workshops, plenary sessions and the keynote speech explored how the law and legal system create and entrench the impoverishment of women in Canada.

February 19 - 21, 1993

NAWL's Tenth Biennial Conference on "Healing the Past, Forming the Future"

Held in Vancouver, this conference was centred on the theme of “Healing the Past, Forming the Future”. The conference’s workshops, plenary sessions, and keynote speech discussed strategies that women can take to achieve social and legal equality. Like the Toronto caucuses, the practical theme of promoting accessibility informed the way VAWL developed and presented the conference.

May 12 - 14, 1995

NAWL's Eleventh Biennial Conference on "Redefining Family Law: The Challenge of Diversity"

Held in St. John’s, conference attendees discussed the outdated social ideal of the nuclear family. Discussions focused particularly on the law making challenges, including how the narrow definition does not account for the increase in single parent families, same sex couples and traditional Indigenous social and family structures.

October 30 - November 2, 1997

NAWL's Twelfth Biennial Conference on “Access to Justice for Women: The Changing Face of Inequality"

Held in Halifax, the Conference’s objectives were to bring together women from across Canada to discuss access to justice issues and formulate strategies for change. Women attended workshops about the impact of changing public policy on women’s lives, shifting into action for the new millennium and sharing experiences and solutions for assessing the justice system. For the first time, the Conference also included a separate Advance Day for Aboriginal women and women of colour. On that day, Aboriginal women and women of colour congregated in a comfortable space to strategize about access to justice for women belonging to their communities.

November 1, 1998

Canadian Women and the Social Deficit: A Presentation to the International Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

On the Occasion of the Consideration of Canada's Third Report on the Implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, this presentation to the United Nations sought to bring to the attention the impact on Canadian women of Canada's failure to realize the social and economic rights guaranteed by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

May 5 - 7, 2000

NAWL's Thirteenth Biennial Conference on "Equality: The Challenge of the New Millennium"

Held in Calgary, this conference was centred on the theme of “Equality: The Challenge of the New Millennium”. Participants discussed equality issues and devised political strategies to overcome the equality issues. While women’s rights have come a long way, NAWL recognized that women still face a peculiar paradox of freedoms and limitations. Despite their success in lobbying for a spectrum of legal precedents and innovations, women continue to live lives of discrimination, violence, and inequality. Women spoke openly about their issues and the changes needed to accomplish equality at the conference.

March 8, 2002

Hats off to Equality

Over 150 women took their “Hats Off to Equality" in the Reading Room on Parliament Hill. This networking event, attended by a large and diverse group of women sporting all forms of headgear, raised almost $6,000 to support the work of NAWL.

July 2002

NAWL's Fourteenth Biennial Conference: Women, the Family and the State

April 2005

NAWL's Fifteenth Biennial Conference on “Women’s Rights and Freedoms, 20 Years (In)Equality"

More than 300 women from across Canada and Quebec attended NAWL’s conference held in April 2005 in Vancouver. Entitled “Women’s Rights and Freedoms, 20 Years (In)Equality,” the central focus was an examination of the (in)effectiveness of the Character of Rights and Freedoms in supporting women’s equality. Through both plenary sessions and 44 workshops, participants heard from leading feminists in different areas of women’s equality work and discussed strategies for next steps in this work.


NAWL is defunded

September 2006 brought the greatest challenge NAWL has had to face in its more than 30-year history. The changes that mandate SWC’S funding criteria rendered NAWL ineligible for funding. All staff were laid off and the office was closed.


NAWL pursues research work to advance women’s equality

NAWL received very large donations from a number of trade unions. The NSC decided to focus NAWL’s work on research and brief presentation on key law reform issues that affect women’s equality.


Campus Caucus Revitalization

In Fall 2009, NAWL brought together 20 young women from universities and colleges across Canada to talk about their vision for NAWL. This two-day event led to ongoing work to revitalize and re-establish NAWL caucuses at 8-10 law schools across Canada.

In 2010, the project developed to see the completion of a caucus development manual to support feminist students who want to establish a NAWL caucus, a revised Gender and the Law Handbook for new law students, a speaking tour of university campuses by Pamela Cross (Director of Strategic Planning) and Julie Shugarman, and a three-day leadership summit for young women.


NAWL publishes of A Women’s Guide to Money, Relationships and the Law in Ontario

In January 2011, NAWL started working on the Economic Security Project with funding from the Law Foundation of Ontario. The project was directed by Leslie Robertson and overseen by a community advisory committee chaired by Pam Cross. They developed A Women’s Guide to Money, Relationships and the Law in Ontario, a guide providing young women with information about their economic rights and responsibilities when entering and leaving common-law relationships and marriages.


NAWL develops an online Feminist Law Reform Course

The NAWL Charitable Trust for Research and Education, with generous support from Shirley Greenberg, worked with Martha Jackman and Julie Shugarman on the development of an online Feminist Law Reform Course. Over 80 edited video clips were developed for various modules of the online course.

June 22, 2016

NAWL Appears at the Standing Committee on the Status of Women's Hearings on Violence Against Women and Girls in Canada

NAWL's recommendations concerned the recognition, consequences and responses to cyber violence against women and girls.


NAWL refunded

Through the hard work of NAWL’s dedicated National Steering Committee, NAWL received a multi-year grant and operations fully resumed in 2017.

March 2020

NAWL intervenes for women's rights in the climate crisis 

NAWL intervened jointly with Friends of the Earth in the Supreme Court’s 2021 reference regarding the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act. In so doing, NAWL was the first feminist organization to come before the Supreme Court of Canada urging strong action against climate change, a crisis that disproportionally affects women and girls. 

August 2022

No New Abortion Law campaign 

Concerned that new legislation would harm abortion seekers and providers, NAWL and Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights collaborated on a large campaign asking for improved access to abortion services instead of the introduction of a new abortion law. The campaign was a huge success: it received endorsements from 64 organizations and 35 academics, and, as advocated for, no new law was introduced. 


Advocating for gun control measures to protect victims of domestic violence 

NAWL was a strong voice at the table on the issue of gun control. We submitted briefs and worked closely with key stakeholders to propose improvements to Bill C-21, An Act to amend certain Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (firearms), adopted in December of 2023. Our advocacy was highly impactful: the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security adopted almost all our proposed amendments to the provisions on domestic violence. 

September 2023

Launch of The Chanterelle Alliance for Feminist Law Reform

In collaboration with Luke’s Place, NAWL launched The Chanterelle Alliance for Feminist Law Reform, with funding from Women and Gender Equality Canada. Bringing together diverse voices, the Alliance helps coordinate feminist organizations in advancing a robust, proactive, feminist law reform agenda in Canada. Close to 100 organizations have joined the Alliance! 

January 2024

NAWL runs a national campaign to ban parental alienation accusations 

NAWL launched a nationwide campaign to ask the Government to ban the use of parental alienation accusations in family courts. The campaign has received more than 160 endorsements from feminist organizations across Canada. 

May 2024

NAWL receives 2023 Women, Peace and Security Civil Society Leadership Award from Government of Canada

NAWL was selected under the national category for its work advocating for better protections for victims of domestic violence in gun control legislation – especially in parts of the legislation related to the handling of firearms where domestic violence exists or is suspected.