International Women’s Day – Celebrating our Great…. Progress?

The UN Charter states that gender equality is a fundamental human right, and much work has been done in the UN and in its States Members to work toward that noble goal. In Canada, we have the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as the foundations for women’s legal rights; and we rejoice in the progress we have made in such areas as maternity and parental benefits.

Good progress, legally, perhaps. But what about progress in our daily lives – in practice?

In our daily lives, women still are not equal to men in Canada – not able to make and carry out the basic decisions that affect our lives. Those maternity benefits – marvelous in theory and law -are so restricted that about half the women who should receive them cannot do so.

The weight of custom hangs heavily on Canadian women – traditionally and currently the caretakers of the young, the old and the sick. Our government says our population must grow and seeks ways to encourage families to have more children. Why, then, do women face penalties at every stage of their lives for having and caring for those children which are so important to the growth of our country? These penalties occur with maternity care, maternity leave, income stability, taxation and other important issues.

Our entire health care system is based on the presupposition that every patient has someone who can give primary, follow-up and on-going care at home at no cost to the State. This caregiver usually is a woman. Again, she is penalized in income, taxation policies and pension benefits for doing this vital work.

In every area of our society, women still are seen as “lesser males”, not-quite-as-good-as, and “merely” women. The work we do – although vital to our nation – is not valued at all or is undervalued because the work can be and is being done by a “mere woman.” Our “lesser value” is seen in all sorts of ways: a Gardener (female) and a Groundskeeper (male) do the same work with the same training and experience for a company, but the Groundskeeper gets higher pay. Clerk 1A (female) and Clerk 1B (male) do the same job, but Clerk 1B has access to career development classes that Clerk 1A does not; and the result is higher pay and career advancement for Clerk 1B. Most school systems have policy stating that the mother is the person to call in case of emergency; hence, the mother gets called to the school/clinic/ hospital to attend to her child’s emergency. Hence, the mother/female worker is viewed as “unreliable” by her supervisor and may be rejected for advancement in favor of her male co-worker.

On March 8, 1917, women demonstrated for “bread and peace.” Today, we still are striving toward bread (alleviation of poverty which is overwhelmingly female at every age) and peace (in our world and in our homes). We see the many problems of our world and our nation, but, as “mere” women, we are excluded from helping to find the solutions – not seen as partners in building our nation. The nation is depriving itself of the brains and skills of about half its population, with all their education and experience and innovative energies.

The progress of the women of a nation toward equality mirrors the progress of that nation toward solving its social, political and economic problems. Without the full participation and empowerment of women to help make the decisions, no lasting solutions to any of these problems can be found.

Women’s progress? Let us celebrate the progress we have made and pledge ourselves and each other to work harder for further progress toward true equality – for the benefit of our nation and our world.