Claire Bonenfant, CQ, bookseller, film director, feminist (born 27 June 1925 in Saint-Jean, Île d’Orléans, QC; died 29 September 1996). As the dynamic chairperson of Québec’s Council on the Status of Women (1978–84), Claire Bonenfant successfully broadened the scope of this governmental consultative body’s efforts to defend the rights and interests of women in Québec.
Education and Early Career
Claire Bonenfant’s parents were physician Alphonse Bonenfant and Georgia Pouliot. Her older brother was the journalist Jean-Charles Bonenfant (1912–77), who served as secretary to Québec premier Maurice Duplessis from 1937 to 1939 and as director of the Library of the Legislative Assembly of Québec (now the National Assembly) from 1952 to 1969.
Following in her brother’s footsteps, Claire Bonenfant studied library science and worked as a bookseller from 1965 to 1978. At the same time, she was active in the Fédération des Femmes du Québec (a feminist organization) and the Québec independence movement. Her husband, Guy Pouliot, was president of the Ralliement pour l’indépendance nationale, a sovereignist political party, from 1962 to 1964. She was one of the many people unjustly arrested in the October Crisis of 1970.
Chairperson of Québec’s Council on the Status of Women
From 1978 to 1984, Claire Bonenfant served as chairperson of Québec’s provincial Council on the Status of Women. In this capacity, she worked side by side with Minister Lise Payette to implement the Québec government’s first policy on the status of women, the result of recommendations that the Council had made during the term of its preceding chairperson, Laurette Champigny-Robillard, in a document entitled Pour les Québécoises : égalité et indépendance (For Québec Women: Equality and Independence).
Under Bonenfant’s leadership, the Council carried out many other projects. It published numerous studies on the status of women, including the series Chiffres en mains, which provided a statistically detailed socio-economic portrait of women in Québec. In 1979, the Council launched La Gazette des femmes, which proved to be not just a magazine but also a genuine information tool for women and the feminist movement. During her term in office, Bonenfant also saw to it that the Council opened offices in every region of Québec. These offices gave women throughout Québec a way to make their specific concerns heard and thus imparted unprecedented energy to Québec’s feminist movement.
In 1980, at Bonenfant’s initiative, the Council launched an extensive campaign against sexist messages in advertising. As part of this campaign, the Council established the Déméritas awards for advertisers whose messages were deemed sexist and the Éméritas awards for advertisers who were helping to break down sexist stereotypes. In the years that followed, the Council continued to work closely with advertising firms, the Advertising Standards Council of Canada and the Confédération générale de la publicité (Quebec’s advertising industry association). In 1983, in another anti-sexist initiative, the Council developed a program called Pareille, pas pareils to promote equal education for girls and boys.
Bonenfant devoted much of her term as Council chairperson to the issue of women’s economic independence. In October 1983, over 1,000 women attended a forum in Montréal on women and the economy, entitled Les femmes : une force économique insoupçonnée, the first event of its kind anywhere in Canada. During Bonenfant’s term, the Council also made its first appearance to express its views before a parliamentary committee: the committee of Québec’s National Assembly that was holding hearings on Bill 89, An Act to establish a new Civil Code and to reform Family Law.
During her five years as chair of the Council, Claire Bonenfant worked to strengthen its ties with other women’s groups throughout Québec. A much admired figure in the feminist movement, she was invited to speak on the status of women on many occasions and also served as vice-president of the Fédération des femmes du Québec in the early 1990s.
Claire Bonenfant also devoted part of her career to the arts. A bookseller at first, she went on to become a film director with the documentary De femme en fille (1976). From 1984 to 1987, she was commissioner of the Régie du cinéma du Québec (Québec’s provincial regulatory body for film). From 1989 until her death in 1996, she chaired the Salon du livre de Québec (Québec City book fair). Throughout her career, she published numerous articles in various newspapers and magazines. She also wrote a chapter about the women’s movement in Québec, for a book about the Quiet Revolution.
In 1997, Université Laval gave Bonenfant’s name to its chair for studies on the status of women, for which she had served as acting chairholder in 1993 (see Women's Studies); since 2009, it has been known as the Claire Bonenfant Chair on Women, Knowledge and Societies. From 1997 to 2005, the Claire Bonenfant award was presented by the Government of Québec to a person or group that had rendered distinguished services in the promotion of democratic values. A street in Québec City is also named after her.
The Claire Bonenfant archives are held in the Québec City archive centre of Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.
Honours and Awards
Knight of the National Order of Québec (1991)
Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case (1993)
See alsoWomen’s Movement.