Women's Centres

Still today, women face different realities. Fortunately, there are different types of centres and organizations whose mission is to help them. The main types of specialized organizations include shelters for abused women, sexual assault support centres, and a few health-care centres.

In addition to these more specialized organizations, there are what is commonly referred to as women’s centres. These centres with a broader mission provide women with a place of belonging, support and action. Using these different facets, women can develop their autonomy. Some 60 centres of this type are active in the Greater Montreal area at the moment. 

Services offered by women's centers

Although activities often meet several needs simultaneously, the following categories of services can be identified: psycho-emotional support, material assistance, social and recreational activities, educational activities and collective mobilization.

Psycho-Emotional Support

In most centres, it is possible to talk with a practitioner who can listen, give emotional support and counselling. Some centres even offer a listening line that allows women to talk with a practitioner without having to go anywhere. Practitioners are also able to refer women to additional services when needed. Furthermore, several centres organize support groups allowing women to talk and support each other. Some support groups are general and some are more specific.

Material Assistance

Various complementary services are offered - it depends on the means and needs identified by each centre: it can be computers, libraries, community gardens, second-hand shops, daycares or collective kitchens. These services allow women to save and meet their basic needs.

Social and Recreational Activities

Depending on participants’ interests, centres may organize coffee hour or creative activities such as choirs, knitting, dance or writing workshops, physical activities such as yoga, walking clubs, self-defence, parties and outings, board games, community meals, intergenerational or intercultural activities… There is something for everyone!

Educational Activities

Centres organize activities such as workshops, conferences, classes or training. Women can develop practical skills in cooking classes, computer workshops, language courses or employment workshops. Popular education also plays an important role: in defined workshops or through other activities, women are better able to understand social relations and to develop knowledge about issues affecting them, such as discrimination and violence towards women.

Collective Mobilization

In terms of popular education, women are invited to come together and take part in collective actions through events, awareness-raising activities, collective texts writing and many other things. Sometimes, women who wish to do so can participate in advocacy committees where they can reflect and take a closer look at the issues they are interested in. In addition, women are often involved in decision-making in the centre and can gain experience in associative life.

Where? When? How?

There are women’s centres in all regions and in all greater Montreal boroughs. Some open mainly during the day on weekdays, but each centre has its own schedule. Some centres require that women register as members for fees ranging between $2 and $15 in order to participate in activities, which are often free or at a low cost. Most centres are open to all women, regardless of their background, but some focus on women in specific situations, such as immigrant women or women from a specific cultural community, native women, lesbians, or women living with a disability.

Women with Specific Situations

In addition to centres devoted entirely to specific clienteles, some women’s centres offer one or more specific services. For example, support or coaching in legal procedures can be provided to victims of marital abuse, legal clinics, support for newcomers, courses in French or English, translation or interpretation, support or respite for caregivers, lesbian support groups, and committees for women living with disabilities or mental health issues.

Women's Centres Network

Many of the women’s centres are networks – they collaborate, attend meetings or congresses and exchange views on women’s experiences as seen by practitioners. They join efforts to tailor services and activities to meet the needs of women as well as possible. It also allows them to unite their voices and efforts when it comes to mobilization and bring about social changes. The largest network of women’s centres in Quebec is R des centres de femmes du Québec, which was created in 1985.

History of Women’s Centres

In the 1960s and 1970s, a period of great social struggle, women made their entry into the labour market. This new reality has been accompanied by disruptions and multiple needs: fragmentation of the nuclear family, wage and student demands, access to child care, abortion and contraception, and much more. It is in this context that many organizations and collective actions emerged, which has sensitized women from all regions and which brought them together to try to meet their common needs.

In the late 1970s, feminist demands led to government reforms such as the creation of the Council on the Status of Women, grants were made available and allowed groups of women from all regions to set up centres where they could both provide services to help women and come together to continue to fight for their rights.


25th anniversary of the right to vote for women in Quebec. Foundation of Fédération des femmes du Québec and AFÉAS.


Adoption of a federal law permitting divorce under certain conditions.


Decriminalization of contraception and homosexuality. Foundation of Montréal Women’s Liberation Movement and Front de libération des femmes du Québec. Opening of Dr. Morgentaler’s first abortion clinic.


Development of women’s committees in major unions. Foundation of the Women’s center of Montreal, which includes an abortion clinic, and Centre d’information et de référence pour femmes.


Creation of the Council for the Status of Women. Foundation of Réseau d’action et d’information pour les femmes.


Foundation of the Comité de lutte pour l’avortement et la contraception libres et gratuits.


UN International women’s year. Fondation of Centre de santé des femmes du quartier Plateau Mont-Royal, of Centre d’aide aux victimes du viol and of Centre de la femme nouvelle.


Legal notion of paternal power replaced by parental authority in the civil code. Disappearance of the concept of illegitimate children.


Creation of birth planning clinics with abortions by the Quebec government. Foundation of Coalition des femmes de Montréal contre la violence faite aux femmes.


Foundation of Regroupement provincial des maisons d’hébergement et de transition pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale and Montreal’s collective Mouvement contre le viol.


Civil Code of Quebec: legal equality of spouses within marriage.


Recognition of marital rape by the federal government.


80 women’s centres unite and found R des centres de femmes du Québec.


Divorce law reform: abandonment of the concept of fault.


Decriminalization of abortion.