International Women’s Day is right around the corner and some of you may be asking yourself questions like “What can I do to get involved?” “Why do we need this and why is it being talked about?” “Is it a celebration or is it a somber occasion?”
Personally, I believe it’s both. I will take every opportunity to celebrate women’s accomplishments, but the fact that International Women’s Day exists at all weighs on my heart because it highlights the fact that society is still not at a place where everyone has an equal and fair chance of being successful.
Witnessing the injustice first-hand
I’ve learned a great deal this year about the importance of gender equality through volunteering at The Women’s Centre, a local charity in Calgary that connects women to resources they need while providing a safe place. My feminist fire was fueled during my first shift by listening to stories of the injustice women have experienced while trying to access basic resources for day-to-day life. I was angered to hear about the shame, harassment and fear these women went through to feed their families or themselves, get a job or even just obtain a few tampons.
What society could learn from the Women’s Centre is how to provide women with resources with dignity. No one should have to prove their situation is “bad enough” to warrant a food hamper, and no one should be required to share their story of struggle to get assessed for items they know they need. The Women’s Centre removes judgement and barriers, providing women with free period protection items, free child-minding service when using the facilities, immediate emergency food hampers (enabling women who come in hungry to leave with food for the next 24 hours), along with countless other necessity items and educational programs. While it’s a wonderful place, it’s unfortunate that we need it because we’re still not at a place where women are provided with fair, safe and equal access to the same resources that men have available in their communities.
Breaking the safety of silence
Our society has made wicked progress when it comes to women’s rights, and we’re way past just talking about gaining the right to vote in most parts of the world. Equal pay is part of the current national and international conversation, and Maclean’s magazine recently called attention to it by charging men 26% more than women for their February issue, to reflect Canada’s pay gap. And while it’s been illegal for decades to pay women less than men in many countries around the world, Iceland took the bold step this year of putting the onus on companies to prove they’re paying their workers fairly.
Outside and inside the workplace, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have brought women’s rights to the forefront of people’s minds again by giving solidarity and a safe space to victims of sexual violence. People are talking, and the popular hashtag has enabled women to share the secrets of harassment and sexual assault that were previously kept hidden in the safety of silence. Did you find yourself in a sad state of disbelief to hear some of the horrifying situations women went through and kept silent for the sake of their careers or reputation, or out of sheer fear? I know I did. Then it made me feel stronger because #MeToo. It helped me speak my own truth and find my own voice amongst an army of allied women, and no longer will I stand for being told that I should “take it as a compliment” when reporting sexual harassment, like when I was in university. This movement highlights that we need to keep talking about women’s rights, because women’s rights are human rights. And human rights are women’s rights.
"People are talking, and #MeToo has enabled women to share the secrets of harassment and sexual assault that were previously kept hidden in the safety of silence."
But International Women’s Day represents more than #MeToo, more than voting rights, more than one moment in time that is going to be written up as a headline or become the next trending hashtag.
Coming together for equality at the Calgary Women's March, January 2018
Why we all need a day to celebrate women
International Women’s Day has been held annually on March 8 for more than a century as a way to celebrate and reflect on women’s history and achievements. This year’s theme is #PressForProgress, calling all of us to press forward and make progress on gender parity. Recently I was asked, “Well, women can vote, so why do we still need International Women’s Day? What are we working for?” and it reminded me that even though we’ve come far in the work towards equality, we still have to more to do!
How have I been pressing for progress? After reaching an extreme level of intolerance for gender inequality, I joined the team of volunteers at the Women’s Centre, in Benevity’s neighborhood. This vibrant community of women helping other women has shown me the importance of showing up, standing up and speaking up when you see room to level the playing field for women. Recently, I took part in the Women’s March for the first time, and was hit with a wave of heightened awareness about women’s rights and the impact we can each make in our efforts to achieve gender parity.
"For the first time, I knew that I had an important role to play in this movement, and I found my voice."