Waking up this morning and reading thoughtful posts and tweets celebrating International Women’s Day, I cheerily planned to go through photos and choose one of inspiring women activists to send out my wishes. Then I saw a tweet from the Globe & Mail asking: “Does International Women’s Day matter anymore?”
I know the question was posted to engage readers (which they were called on), but it made me mad.
And it got me thinking about recent news on women’s rights here in Canada and around the world.
On Wednesday morning a CBC interview with Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet and a religious leader in Toronto made my blood boil when it was reported that the Church isn’t ready to respect women and give them a larger role in the Church, because it “takes time to move in that direction”. What is it that you need more time to consider? Dragging of feet by the Church in allowing women to be ordained aside, they are still thinking about whether women deserve equality? Huh?
As incensed as I was, I think it’s a sad but true example of what many people think, especially those in positions of power and influence: they are still grappling with the idea that women are equal. Despite the rhetoric of governments and institutions that women are “agents of change” and “women will change the world” and other stuff leaders puff out their chests and say, they don’t really want to give women a place at the table. Or if they do get a chair, women don’t get to add much to the discussion, and when it comes time to putting their recommendations to paper to improve the plight of women, there’s no space (Rio+20 is one example). It’s still men making decisions and policy recommendations on how to combat climate change or deal with economic crises, for example, even though women are impacted the most.
Not that the Catholic Church is the barometer for all human thinking, but if an institution with a following of 1.1 billion around the world thinks their people need more time to consider women as equals, what does this say about where progress is really at?
Without women’s voices and women holding court in transformative leadership roles, not much progress will be made for the three billion women on the planet. We can pass all the laws and rules we want to change the status quo for women. But if we don’t have people at the top who really understand the layers of gender oppression at the core of systems and institutions, will fight to change them, uphold new standards and ensure punishment for those who break them, things won’t change.
Which made me think- why aren’t more people angry too?
After spending 18 months working directly in women’s rights, listening, reading and sharing opinions on progress for women with colleagues and friends on various communication channels, it’s been interesting to look at the conversations among my friends and family back home. And their reactions, or rather non-reactions, to issues and stories about women’s rights. Now to be fair I’ve used Facebook as the medium, a channel which for the most part is used to show food porn and pictures of animals snuggling.
Posting family photos and travel news got many ‘likes’ and lots of nice comments from friends and family. But posting about an issue facing women, even if it were good news, got very few. And those were usually women and one particularly progressive guy who work in the field. Not that this is qualitative research by any means, but it got me thinking that these news stories and discussions still make people uncomfortable. And the “f” word- whew- people DO NOT want to hear about feminists or the feminist movement.
I also think violations against women and their human rights can seem like an “other” problem, something which exists far away in a foreign culture which is not as “enlightened” as Canada. Yet violence against women is an issue here, such as the appalling lack of action in the 600 murders of aboriginal women. And quite frankly I think many people are just not interested. If it isn’t staring them in the face (although it may very well be lurking nearby), they don’t want to talk about it, other than to tell their daughters not to leave their drinks unattended or say “that poor girl” as they put down their newspapers after reading about the gang rape in Delhi.
I’m just beginning to get up to speed on what the situation is like for women here in Canada, but with stats like this on violence against women and the devastating effects of poverty, it doesn’t sound like we’ve checked off the box on women having made it here either.
Adding a bit of bright side news however, recently the first woman ever became an Ontario (provincial) premier. I read a number of articles in mainstream media about how we need to stop including this moniker of “first woman premier”, including women journalists, because by pointing it out we make it seem special when it should be the norm. But we do need to point it out. Because it is significant and women in transformative leadership roles is not common. This is not the norm in most of the world, even in advanced countries such as Japan where there are no women in real political positions. In my last job, trying to find encouraging data on women’s leadership progress was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
When researching material for another post, I was shocked to learn that Bill C-384 and Motion 312 had been introduced, restricting women’s reproductive rights. In Canada I asked? Yep, there are people in our own country who don’t see women as human beings who deserve to have their rights upheld, even ones entrenched under national and international human rights charters. Despite these politicians’ charges that they’re protecting unborn fetuses, they really still think we’re babymakers, and housekeepers and sexual objects.
So, yes Globe & Mail, International Women’s Day does matter. It matters because people need to be reminded that women, even in Canada, continue to face threats against their human rights and live under systems which oppress us. While today may seem irrelevant to some, there are still people, including leaders at all levels of institutions, industries and governments, who have a hard time believing that women are equal.
Some more reading: