Print Edition: March 12, 2014
I’m going up to Kelowna for the weekend to celebrate two great women in my life, but in two different ways. My mother’s 50th birthday is on Saturday, and the party is going to be off the hook with tons of food, lots of toasts, and maybe a little dancing to celebrate what a wonderful person she is. The other reason I’m going up to Kelowna is my husband’s 93-year-old grandmother passed away this February, and the funeral is on Sunday. We will be celebrating her beautiful life with an intimate family service, acknowledging the profound legacy she has left for her children, grand-children and great grand-children.
This month is a time of celebration for the women in our lives, both in life and in death, and for those who are raising their voices in support of all women. Author and public speaker Brené Brown once said, “Even to me the issue of ‘stay small, sweet, quiet, and modest’ sounds like an outdated problem, but the truth is that women still run into those demands whenever we find and use our voices.” Brown’s quote is important for us because there are still issues of gender equality around the globe. International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 is a day to celebrate women’s voices, but also to bring attention to the changes that still need to take place.
IWD, which started in 1911, is intended to celebrate the social, political, and economic achievements of women while also focusing the world’s attention on areas requiring further action. This year’s theme, “inspiring change,” is exemplified by activists like Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who knows first-hand what it takes to stand up to adversity; for her efforts to improve girls’ access to education in Pakistan, she took a bullet to the head from a Taliban gunman in 2012 and survived. Yousafzai has continued to inspire change, and at 16 years old, she’s the youngest person to have been considered for a Nobel Peace Prize. In Canada, Rumana Monzur, who survived being brutally assaulted and blinded by her husband in 2011 for wanting to further her education at UBC, continues to inspire change locally through her activism, and was the keynote speaker for Abbotsford’s IWD celebrations.
These two women are beacons of justice, raising their voices in honour of every female on the planet. Women like them everywhere are struggling to fight against domestic and public violence, sexual harassment, human trafficking, and genital mutilation practices. Even in the modern Western world, women still have to fight for equal pay; access to quality childcare; job security for working women during pregnancy; and an equal role in politics, media, and business.
Let’s take some ink to talk about men’s empowerment initiatives for gender equality. Have you ever heard of the saying, “If you’re not for us, you’re against us?” Violence against women is learned, not biological. Research from the Battered Women Support Services (BWSS) in Vancouver shows that on average, every six days a woman is killed in Canada by her intimate partner. The Vancouver BWSS office registers 100 new women a month who have suffered some kind of abuse, with 81 per cent of their reported trauma caused by men. Men who wish to promote women’s rights to their bodies should also share equal responsibility for contraceptive use and sexual reproductive health. Real gender equality should include equal domestic responsibility as well. What about caring for those babies and dependent family members at home? I have never heard of a woman being given a salary to be at home, and caring for a household is never over. Economic equality for women in the workplace also should mean equal expectations for men’s participation at home.
No one can say they do not have women in their lives, whether a mother, wife, grandmother, sister, aunt, friend, or girlfriend, who does not deserve to be honoured this March. I have many more women to honour, but I thank my grandmother-in-law for bravely immigrating to Canada from England — I might not have otherwise met the love of my life, and I thank my mother, whose rally for education, along with her giving and gracious nature, has inspired change in me to become the woman I am today. As we reflect on women’s equality this month, may we hear the voices of justice and progress and each be inspired to change.