Blog - March 2012

200 Million Fewer Women in the World Than Should Be. Recognizing International Women’s Day

 March 12th, 2012

“I don’t need a relationship to define who I am. I will be fine, I am a strong woman” unknown.

International Women’s Day, March 8th, is an annual occasion recognized worldwide by the United Nations, women’s groups and other organizations that recognize the historical struggle of women for equality and social justice.  This day assembles women of different racial, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political backgrounds in unison to celebrate the significance of women’s struggles.  As time passed this day has become an extended celebration of peace, strength, and inclusiveness among women and people of diverse social identities.

First and foremost, the struggle of women for equality is so significant simply due to the fact that initially entrenched in supreme law and marriage vows, marriage in the 1800’s granted men complete control of women including their bodies and inheritance. Women were controlled by their Fathers, brothers, and husbands, before having any self authority.  Along with slaves, servants, the criminally insane, and men who did not own property, women were not recognized as citizens and did not earn the right to vote or participate in any political affairs.  

Later In 1928, the Supreme Court ruled that women were not “persons” under the British North America Act, and therefore could not be appointed to senate.  However, the large enlistment of men in World War 1 resulted in a shortage of men taking on the roles of society, resulting in the exposure of women to different types of jobs that were not regularly taken on by women such as heavy duty labour work, and certain administrative positions.

Initially, the right for women to vote was permitted in increments starting with women who served as nurses in WW 1, than women who were British subjects and who were wives, widows, mothers, sisters and daughters of those who had served or were serving in the Canadian or British military or naval forces. Unmarried women and widows were first granted the right to vote in municipal elections in Ontario in 1884.  Such limited voting rights were eventually approved in other provinces across Canada at the end of the 19th century.  However the bill for women to vote in provincial elections was continuously denied until Manitoba ultimately succeeded in 1916 with Alberta following the same year

These laws were eventually replaced with the 19th amendment passed   in the United States on June 4th 1920, which was the same time women in Canada earned the right to vote and run for public office.  It was not until 1960 that all women including indigenous women over the age of 18 regardless of ethnic background or origin were permitted to vote and run for office in Canada. On October 18th 1929 that women are finally declared "persons" under Canadian law and this historical victory was succeeded due to the perseverance of five Alberta Women, Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards.

Presently this day is commemorated in several other countries including Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Armenia to name a few, as a public holiday whereby government offices, businesses, and educational institutions are closed for the day.  While embracing the importance of this day, women are building upon the tradition while acknowledging at least 9 decades of struggle.

International women’s day was initially celebrated by and later adopted by the United Nations to be celebrated on March 8th during International Women’s Year in 1975. Shortly after, in 1977 the U.N General Assembly endorsed a declaration to implement a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace, to be recognized by nations in accordance with their national traditions. The aims and objectives in implementing this resolution were to increase awareness on the vital role of women in peace efforts and development, with aims to end discrimination and achieve women’s full and equal contribution to the world.

                On March 8th, the Kawartha World Issues Centre held a World Issue’s Cafe in the presenting a forum discussion with this year’s theme posing the question, “How do we dismantle a culture that promotes violence and isolation?”  The panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Nadine Changfoot, Associate Professor in Politics at Trent University while the guest speakers presented different perspectives of their struggles.

Sid Jordan and Selma Al-Aswad came to Canada to join us from Seattle, USA, on behalf of the Re-teaching Gender and Sexuality Project and Put THIS on the MAP, discussing issues surrounding homelessness, emotional abandonment and a lack of having a support network due to their gender and sexuality preferences in addition to heightened racial oppression especially after 9/11. 

Paula Sherman, Associate Professor in Indigenous Studies, Trent University, and Co-Chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nations, went on to discuss the importance of decolonization and restoration of women’s knowledge , educating the youth , and re-establishing their relationship to the land. Professor Sherman also touched on the injustices that Indigenous women face due to colonial rule evident in the implementation of the Indian act, and the lack of attention paid to the hundreds of murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada, with their voices seldom heard.

And, Khadija Warsame, Community Activist and Speaker for the New Canadians Centre Speaker’s Bureau, spoke about her flee from the harsh political environment of Somalia with her two kids and pregnant condition while giving birth on the way during her remarkable journey through Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi, to be eventually sponsored by 5 Peterborough women bringing her to where she is today.  Khadija’s story is an inspiring story of determination, faith, and representing the strength within women.

International Women’s Day continues to celebrate the historical significance of women’s struggles while addressing the disadvantages that women still lack, within a context of social inclusiveness and a promotion of peace over all.

Yolanda Ajak

Kawartha World Issues Centre (KWIC)

International Women's Day: Much to Celebrate....Much More to Achieve

March 8th, 2012

Our 73 cents worth…

Whether you view the issue in terms of human capital and the under-utilization of half the community, province and country’s brain power; or whether you see it from a human justice standpoint as a breech of human rights and fundamental freedoms – either way, discrimination on the grounds of gender is unconstitutional in Canada.

Yet Canada, Ontario and Peterborough are still leaving women behind in 2012. On average, your mother, spouse, sister or daughter will earn only 73 cents on the dollar that a man will earn for work of equal worth. The level of violence against women is unacceptably high (even more alarming among First Nations women) in a country where there should be “Zero Tolerance” for any form of violence against women. Less than 25% of Canada’s Parliamentarians are women – we rank 40th in the world. ( And women are much more likely to live in poverty into old age – a frightening fact.

The glass ceiling may be cracked, but it is not broken. Younger generation women may now have the vote, be able to study at universities in all professions without a quota limiting their registration, have maternity leave without loosing their job - and may even wonder “What’s all the “feminist” fuss is about?”

That is because advocacy of strong women (and some remarkable men) over decades – broke through the first few floors of the elevator ride. But soon enough, in the work-force, in peace-building, in politics, they will hit the steel roof of the higher floors in the elevator.

The World Economic Forum in Davos, the most prestigious meeting of finance leaders and financial institutions in the world, added a “Gender Gap Index” to its annual analysis of country economic performance. Canada ranked 38 in the “wage equality for similar work” category and 36 in terms of “Political Empowerment”.

We may have come a long way – but have further to go and must not slide backwards. Our government has cancelled the Law Reform Commission – a vehicle which has helped women fund their claims of discrimination before the courts. It has decreased the funding for the Status of Women and reduced important research on women’s issues. It ignored women’s groups who asked to be protected by the gun registry, cancelled the compulsory Long-Form Census and the use of “gender” in government documents. It cancelled funding for “Sisters in Spirit” undertaking research and action on missing and murdered First Nations women (over 600 since the 1980s).

Instead, the Committee that reported to Parliament, and the “Evidence to Action” $10 M program for a National Police Support Centre and Tip Line took the place of locally funded programs. The report was critiqued by Amnesty International as “watered-down” and the UN just announced its intention to investigate the situation in Canada as it did in Mexico.

One-off projects like the building of women’s shelters, a part of the billions of dollars in the 2010 “Stimulus Package”, are very important initiatives. But these investments do not replace or remove the slow but steady, the almost invisible but relentless reversal of hard-won steps forward for women’s equality.

All political Parties, Community and County Councillors have the ability to build on successes to date, and ensure equity is central to a local and national debate and action plan to achieve equality of opportunity for all. In 1995, Canada led the way internationally at the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women in Development tabling the Gender-Based Analysis tool for use by public policy-makers. Let’s put the tool to use. Let’s reclaim the high ground.

Today – on March 8th, International Women’s Day – let us ensure all people in our community and Country are treated equally and fairly under Canada’s constitution. It is every person’s human right.

That’s our 73 cents worth.

Rosemary Ganley, Betsy McGregor & Jill Jones
Peterborough & County Older Women’s Network