National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) / Comité canadien d’action sur le statut de la femme (CCA)


The origins of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women are to be found in the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. In 1972, frustrated by the lack of action in response to the Royal Commission Report, the Committee on Equality for Women met on 31 January 1971. The 34 participants represented 22 organisations. They agreed to disband the Committee for Equality and formed a new organisation designed to keep various organisations informed about each other and to initiate efforts to get the government to act on the recommendations of the report: the National Ad Hoc Action Committee on the Status of Women. More groups joined and the committee organised a conference in Toronto 7-9 April 1972 called Strategies for Change. That conference decided that the National Action Committee was here to stay and no longer “ad hoc”. The words ad hoc were removed from the previous name and the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) with 31 member groups was founded. By 1977 there were 120 member groups; by 1988 it brought together 576 member groups and in 1996 there were over 600 groups. These groups spanned a large range of political thought. They included many of the older national women’s organisations, business and professional women, unions, YWCAs, service organizations, such as women’s shelters and rape crisis centres, immigrant women’s centres, disabled women’s groups, new women’s liberation and autonomous feminist groups, women’s caucuses in various mixed groups and political parties. In 1976, NAC officially became a bi-lingual organization.

NAC always subscribed to the four main principles set out by the Royal Commission on the Status of Women:

  • Women should be free to choose whether or not to take employment outside their homes
  • .The care of children is a responsibility to be shared by the mother, the father and society
  • Society has a responsibility for women because of pregnancy and childbirth, and special treatment related to maternity will always be necessary
  • In certain areas women will for an interim period require special treatment to overcome the adverse effect of discriminatory practices.

In addition, NAC always promoted legislation banning all discrimination by reason of sex, marital or family status, pregnancy or sexual orientation. And, of course, NAC always supported and campaigned for more government funding for birth control information so that women could take control of their own lives and also campaigned for access to free and safe abortions when a woman and her physician decide that it is the best course.

Since the founding conference in 1972, NAC has moved beyond these preliminary positions to develop policy on many, many issues. The archive – and particularly the pages on the National Action Committee on the Status of Women – will contain many policy documents adopted by NAC.

The heart of the National Action Committee and the head, in the sense that it is the main decision-making body of the organization, was the Annual General Meeting. At this meeting, delegates from member organizations across the country discussed and debated many issues and voted to adopt positions that would form the basis of future NAC actions and campaigns. Policy resolutions had to be circulated to all member groups at least 30 days prior to the annual general meeting; proposed constitutional changes had to be circulated at least 90 days prior to the meeting. In addition to policy resolution, the delegates elected a 21-member volunteer executive. These executive members were responsible for running the organization between Annual General Meeting and implementing the policy resolutions and actions. The Meeting also directly elected the President, Vice-Presidents, Secretary and Treasurer. Member groups of each region elected their own regional representative resulting in ten regional representatives on the executive. Five members at large were elected by the delegates.

Eventually, NAC was able to secure government funding from the Secretary of State Women’s Programs as well as raise money through fundraising. It was then able to establish a Head Office and an Ottawa Lobbying Office. It was able to hire staff to organize the several executive meetings a year, mid-year conferences, the Annual General Meeting, the newsletter and publications, campaign support, financial administration and communications.

NAC volunteers took on the responsibility for preparing position papers and briefs to government as well as organizing related campaigns and actions. To do this, the volunteers set up issue committees chaired by one of the executive member. From the early days these committees included: Employment, pensions and income security; social services (included child care); violence against women; health and reproductive rights; pornography; visible minority and immigrant women; native women. These committees grew and shrank according to what was needed at the time.

Such was the organizational fabric that permitted NAC to become an extremely responsive, effective and articulate voice for the women of Canada throughout the period of this Archive from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Its accomplishments can be seen in the archival material on this section of the website but in brief include:

  • Following the Murdoch Case, NAC launched a successful national campaign to overturn provincial property laws to recognize the value of women’s work such as homemaking, farming and family businesses.
  • Improving pensions by obtaining amendments to the Canada Pension Plan to cover women who drop out of the labour force to care for young children;
  • NAC had a major impact on getting homemakers included in the Canada Pension Plan.
  • Along with other groups, NAC successfully lobbied for the implementation of maternity benefits in the unemployment insurance program (1971). Later, NAC and other groups were able to secure changes to the Canada Labour Code to provide for shorter notice for maternity leave, extra sick days for family responsibilities and 6 weeks of additional unpaid leave for either parent on the birth or adoption of a child. Further, NAC was instrumental in security the 1978 change to the Canada Labour Code preventing an employee from being fired because she was pregnant; plus securing a change in the Human Rights Act (1983) to include pregnancy and childbirth in the “grounds for discrimination”;
  • Lobbied extensively with other groups for the vast extension of government funding for child care services. This resulted in very minor increases in expenditures but the issue began to achieve prominence when NAC and other groups persuaded the government to set up a federal Task Force (the Katie Cooke Task Force) and later a Special Parliamentary Committee on Child Care.
  • NAC worked with others across Canada to implement laws on pay equity in every jurisdiction including at the federal level.
  • Pressure from NAC and other groups led to the implementation of an affirmative action program for women in the federal public service leading to the appointment of a Royal Commission on Equity in Employment led by Judge Rosalie Abella.
  • Appointments of women to prominent positions such as Governor General and women on the Supreme Court of Canada.
  • NAC also led the campaign to overhaul the Criminal Code provisions on sexual assault to make convictions less difficult and grant more protection to victims.
  • NAC also lobbied for stronger protections against harassment on the job in the Canadian Human Rights Act (1983) and the Canada Labour Code (1984).
  • NAC began the work of improving Canada’s pornography legislation.
  • NAC with other organizations also led campaigns against violence against women, including in families. Such campaigns led to establishing shelters for women across Canada, the appointment of a parliamentary committee on family violence and the appointment of the Badgley Committee on Child Abuse.
  • NAC endorsed the Ad Hoc conference on women and the Constitution (1981) which played a key role in the inclusion of stronger equality clauses for women in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • NAC also worked with indigenous women’s organizations to revoke the provision in the Indian Act that led to indigenous women losing their status upon marriage to a non-Indian man.
  • Organized televised party leaders’ debates on women’s issues and raised women’s issues during election campaigns.
  • Lobbying efforts to get women’s issues on the agenda of the 1985 and 1986 meetings of Canada’s first ministers.
  • Creation of a Visible Minority and Immigrant Women’s Committee and a Lesbian Issues Committee in 1985.
  • Constantly reminding politicians, media and citizens of the major gaps in women’s equality in Canada.
  • Played a key role in the World Conference of Women in Nairobi, 1985.
  • Lobbied extensively to ensure funding by the Secretary of State Women’s Program to equality-seeking women’s organizations
  • Mass mobilizations of women in elections through “Women Vote” campaign; “Get the Budget Back on Track” campaign and Campaign against Free Trade and the Goods and Services Tax.
  • NAC’s high-profile, renewed commitment to pro-choice issues through the Chantal Daigle abortion case.
  • NAC worked closely with feminists across the country to address the devastating issues that had resulted in the violent murder of 14 young women by Marc Lépine’s in 1989

The face of NAC has always been its presidents. In the period covered by this Archive, the following women served as NAC Presidents:

1971-1974                        Laura Sabia
1974-1975                        Grace Hartman
1975-1977                        Lorna Marsden
1977-1979                        Kay Macpherson
1979-1981                        Lynn McDonald
1981-1982                        Jean Wood
1982-1984                        Doris Anderson
1984-1986                        Chaviva Hosek
1986-1988                        Louise Dulude
1988-1990                        Lynn Kay
1990-1993                        Judy Rebick

Since then, NAC Presidents have been:
Sunera Thobani (1993-1996)
Joan Grant-Cummings (1996-1999)
Terri Brown (2000-2002)
Sungee John (2003-2005, interim)
Dolly Williams (2006- )

More information about NAC’s history can be found on the pages of this Archive. In particular, the article An Action that Will Not Be Allowed To Subside: NAC’s First Twenty Years by Anne Molgat provides a very well-rounded introduction to this amazing organization.

National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) / Comité canadien d’action sur le statut de la femme (CCA) Documents

Title Date Region
(NAC) Ad Hoc Committee Submission to Government of Canada, 1972 1972 National (all of Canada)
1984 NAC Fundraising Letter from President, Chaviva Hosek -- National (all of Canada)
An Action That Will Not Be Allowed To Subside: NAC’s First Twenty Years 1992 National (all of Canada)
Keep Abortion Legal – NAC Flyer (1989) 1989 National (all of Canada)
Les Femmes Indiennes et l’Alinéa 12 (1) (b) -- National (all of Canada)
List of Briefs produced by NAC, 1978-1988 1988 National (all of Canada)
List of NAC Policy Resolutions from 1972 to 1978 1978 National (all of Canada)
NAC – Minutes of AGM, March 12-15, 1982 1982 National (all of Canada)
NAC – NDP Federal Caucus response to NAC Lobby Questions, 1991 1991 National (all of Canada)
NAC 1972 Pamphlet about NAC/CCA and its Member Groups -- National (all of Canada)
NAC 1973 List of NAC Board Members, Officers, Contacts 1973 National (all of Canada)
NAC 1975 Pamphlet and List of Member Groups 1975 National (all of Canada)
NAC 1983 Report from the Editorial Committee 1983 Ontario
NAC AGM Notice, 1983 1983 National (all of Canada)
NAC AGM Travel Grant Application, 1983 1983
NAC Annual Lobby: Questions and Answers, 1991 1991 National (all of Canada)
NAC Annual Meeting 1978 – List or Participants 1978 National (all of Canada)
NAC Budget Cuts Survey 1990 1990 National (all of Canada)
NAC Call for Nominations for Executive Committee Nominations, 1983 -- National (all of Canada)
NAC Child Care Brochure -- National (all of Canada)
NAC Funding of Services to Women: Canada Assistance Plan 1983 National (all of Canada)
NAC Funding of women’s groups and the federal budget, 1990 1990 National (all of Canada)
NAC Next Steps for the Organizational Review, 1988 1988 National (all of Canada)
NAC Pamphlet with list of Member Groups, 1986 1986 National (all of Canada)
NAC Pamphlet: Les garde des enfants 1986 National (all of Canada)
NAC Presentation to Standing Committee on the Secretary of State, 1986 1986 National (all of Canada)
NAC Proposed Contitution Amendment 1982 Manitoba
NAC Report of the Editorial Committee, 1983 1983 National (all of Canada)
NAC Report on 1991 AGM 1991 National (all of Canada)
NAC Review of the Situation of Women in Canada, 1993 1993 National (all of Canada)
NAC Southern Ontario Regional Newsletter, 1989 1989 Ontario
NAC Update for NAC Southern Ontario Members, 1988 1988 Ontario
NAC-Taxation on Womens Services 1983 Ontario
NAC/CCA Les femmes et les Pensions 1982
Pornography Endangers the Lives of Women: NAC Press Release 1983 National (all of Canada)