Every year on March 8th the world marks International Women’s Day (IWD). Just like gender inequality, this day comes with a long history.
The first International Women’s Day was observed on March 19, 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. That day, more than one million women and men showed their support by participating in public events. Over time, International Women’s Day has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration. By 1977, the United Nations had adopted a resolution designating March 8 as International Women’s Day. Today, International Women’s Day is a national holiday in many countries and celebrated in many more. Following the United Nations’ lead, Canada chose March 8 as International Women’s Day (IWD). – http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/commemoration/iwd-jif/what-quoi-en.html
Being in a leadership position in two organizations that pride themselves on a strong history of feminism and social justice, I have spent a fair amount of time over the last year contemplating what makes me a feminist, and how gender inequality plays out in our society to this day. At the same time, I recognize my enormous privilege of being born a white woman in this time, in this country. The struggles and triumphs of those who have come before us have allowed me to live with relative ease today, a life largely of my choosing. My decision to obtain higher education and join the workforce, and ensure my own economic independence, was rarely questioned by the time I was ready to do so. For this I am very lucky.
In Winnipeg every year a core group of people come together to plan the events of International Women’s Day, which always include a march. This year the planning team set a theme of Celebrating All Women. I had the privilege of emceeing this event, which started with a blessing from elder Leslie Spillett. As Leslie spoke of both our blessings and our ongoing struggles, particularly to end violence and keep our sisters safe, I was struck by how much work we still have ahead of us. I was also very aware of how much being a woman is just one of many interconnected elements of the Social Determinants of Health, and in particular, how gender inequality continues to be a pervasive underlying factor in the lives of all women.
Here some of the sobering statistics from the Canadian Women’s Foundation:
- Over 1.5 million women in Canada live in poverty
- Women in Canada earn 28% less than men, and this gap is widening, not closing.
- Canada doesn’t have a viable child care policy program.
- Women represent only 10% of seats on board of directors.
- Women hold only 5.2 % of the CEO roles at Fortune 500 companies.
- Women hold only 8% of top paid jobs in Canada.
- 21% of single moms are raising their children in poverty in Canada, versus 9.6% of the total Canadian population living below the poverty level.
- 50% of women in Canada above the age of 18 have experienced sexual or physical assault.
As women, many of us experience lives in which we are regularly told or made to feel that we are not enough something. For example perhaps we are not thin enough, or pretty enough, or demure enough, graceful enough, humble enough, maternal enough, did I mention thin enough? This is my list; I am sure most women carry some version of this somewhere inside their own psyches, which may be quite different for every woman, but at the end of the day contains the same core message- you are not enough, I am not enough. When I think of this year’s local theme of celebrating all women, this is what I think about: how do we create a society where every young girl grows up thinking she is absolutely enough?
It is my belief that if feminism is in many ways about being able to live the life you choose, we need to consider, is it is enough that I myself am free to live the life I choose? Or is it that all women, in fact, all people, are free to live the life they choose? Were that true, am I not obligated to actively ensure other women have access to a world where they are free to make their choices? Free to feel like they are exactly enough?
Too few women in our society are ever completely free to choose and have access to the life they wish to lead, without ramification, without censure, without risk. And for me, this is why I march, and why I am thankful that I never do it alone.
For more on this year’s IWD march: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/winnipeg-celebrations-international-womens-day-1.3481603
To support the international #pledgeforparity: http://www.internationalwomensday.com/Theme
To participate in the Status of Women Canada IWD campaign to tag a woman who inspires you http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/commemoration/iwd-jif/index-en.html