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March 8th marks International Women’s Day, a day to give the floor to women and the issues they face every day, share their experiences and generate conversation and change.
This year’s theme is Press For Progress, pushing the importance of continuing to move forward in gender parity.
While many women have undoubtedly made their mark in history in many ways, as inventors, teachers, engineers and advocates amongst others, we still face a glaring divide in how we’re viewed and treated worldwide. This is no new plight, as International Women’s Day has been observed since the early 1900s.
It’s vital to remember when we talk about women’s rights in 2018 that many of the rights and freedoms that we have today are still very much in their infancy. In Canada, women did not gain the right to vote until 1916, and even then, some provinces were much slower than others (Quebec, for example, took until 1940). That was just over 100 years ago and that’s in Canada, a country well known for its progressive and liberal nature.
So how did International Women’s Day come to be?
When 15,000 garment workers marched in New York City in 1908 in what is now known as the first International Women’s Day march, they did so because they were overworked, underpaid, and were not seen as equal given that they had no say in government (it wasn't until 1920 that the United States would grant them the right to vote). The march was a remarkable display of the power of people and the strength of their voices that benefit all generations that followed.
In 1910, spearheaded by Clara Zetkin, the Leader of the 'Women's Office' for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, a proposal was made to observe International Women’s Day annually and globally in order to drive attention and change to women’s rights.
Without women like her, it’s difficult to say how many years might have passed until International Women’s Day became the recognized movement it is today, as the United Nations did not officially proclaim March 8th as International Women’s Day until 1975.
What kind of change have women’s advocates aided since the first march?
In 1918, Margaret Sanger, a nurse known best for being the first woman to open a clinic advocating for birth control, won a case against the state of New York which then allowed doctors to begin advising their patients about the health benefits of using birth control. Sanger’s clinic would later become what we know today as Planned Parenthood.
In 1930, after advocating for women to be considered “persons” as described in the British North America Act, Cairine Reay Wilson became the first woman appointed to the Canadian Senate (as of January 2017 however; only 18.3% of government ministers are women, proving we still have a ways to go in giving women the opportunity to represent us in government).
1951 saw the enactment of the Fair Employment Practices Act and the Female Employees Fair Remuneration Act in Ontario which aimed to eliminate discrimination in the workforce and ultimately led to the passing of three vital acts:
1) The Canada Fair Employment Practices Act (1953)
2) The Female Employees Equal Pay Act (1956) which made wage discrimination based on sex against the law; and
3) The Employment Equity Act (1986) which requires federally regulated employers to identify and eliminate unnecessary barriers that limit employment opportunities
While we can all agree these have been great strides for women, (and I’d argue, humanity as a whole), we still have a long ways to go until we see true gender parity in Canada and globally.
What are some of the issues affecting Canadian women today?
Today, child care costs in Canada are some of the highest in the world, with Canadian women often bearing the brunt of the cost and often having to put their own careers on hold in order to care for their children and home.
Despite being more likely to graduate from post-secondary institutions, women are still being left out of the boardroom and away from key leadership positions in all facets of business and government.
On average, women still put in twice as many hours of unpaid work compared to men.
Violence against women affects almost half of all Canadians with minority groups at an even greater risk as seen with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Notably, change is slow in government, but that’s all the more reason to stand up in support of women’s rights this March 8th and in all the days that follow; women’s rights are human rights, and simply, we all benefit from the equality women are fighting for.
If you’re looking for an event near you to participate in IWD, you can check out a comprehensive list of events here: https://www.internationalwomensday.com/Events