March is a time when nature comes alive – some animals awaken from their long winter sleep to find surrounding habitats in the colourful, early blooms of spring. At the same time, women in all corners of the globe wake to face the ongoing struggles for gender equality, enshrined in the United Nations charter of 1945, which promotes “fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.”
The United Nations officially recognized March 8, 1977, as International Women’s Day (IWD), mainly due to the efforts of labour movements in North America and Europe. At the turn of the 20th century, labour movements pushed for change favourable to all in the workplace. Since then, greater recognition has been given to International Women’s Day as a vehicle for keeping the struggle for equality alive.
In many communities, churches sponsor Women’s Day activities. These provide safe spaces where women are enlightened on achievements in the struggle for equality. Each year there is a theme that guides speakers and panelists from around the world as they elucidate the call for equality.
The theme for IWD 2021 is “Choose to Challenge.” The United Nation believes when everyone is challenged to weed out behaviours that show gender bias and stereotypical profiles, such changes will result in a more balanced world where women and their achievements are promoted and celebrated without scorn or disdain.
Michelle Obama warns that “no country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.” But restrictions have kept 2.7 billion women from accessing the same choice of jobs as men. Women are sometimes harassed in the workplace, passed over for promotion and experience gender-based violence. But though often referred to as the “fairer sex' or ‘weaker sex,’ women around the world are beginning to debunk those age-old myths.
Research by Development Dimensions International in 2021 shows that of 195 countries and dependencies, 41 have women in leadership positions including first minister and president. Though this is a significant leap, research showed that only five per cent of women in the work force held CEO positions even though organizations that had more women in leadership roles performed better financially. Researchers believed that “gender diversity led to improved problem solving, which in turn led to increased revenues and profits.”
On March 8, International Women’s Day, let us stand up for equality. Raise your hand high when you hear derogatory remarks about women. By raising your hand, you are opting to support and stand in solidarity with women. Most importantly, you are agreeing to treat the women in your life, in the workplace, on the streets, at your places of worship, in the nooks and crannies of life, with respect and dignity – “Choose to Challenge.”
Remember the “Famous Five” who chose to challenge long before the UN charter came into being? These pioneers of equality remind us that we should not become complacent when people’s rights and privileges are impugned. When you visit the Olympic Park in Calgary or the grounds at Parliament Hill, Ottawa, stop by the sculptures of the ‘Famous Five' and reflect on their efforts in the fight for equality.
In Edmonton, enjoy picnics in the beautiful parks named in honour of Emily Murphy and Louise McKinney. Walk Irene Parlby’s paved path along the river bordering Rossdale, or cycle/walk Henrietta Muir Edward Park along the North Saskatchewan River. Don’t forget to take a tour of the Nellie McClung Girls’ School in Oliver. These are constant reminders that equality brings out the best in people.
Time moves on, and the people and things that don’t change will eventually become archaic compared to those who embrace equality for all. The United Nations hopes that equality will become a reality by the year 2030. If this should happen, the world will witness a new world order in which the barriers to gender equality succumb to equality and justice because you “Choose to Challenge.”
Etty Cameron is a retired educator.