GUEST OPINION: Today is International Women’s Day 2017

By Mari Basiletti

Published on March 8, 2017

People participate in a march through downtown Los Angeles honoring International Women's Day in Los Angeles on Sunday, March 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

©Damian Dovarganes

March is here, spring is around the corner, and today we celebrate one of my favourite days of the year: International Women’s Day.

This year the theme for IWD is “Be Bold for Change.” The term bold can be defined as “showing an ability to take risks; confident and courageous; fearless before danger; intrepid.” Alternatively, as girls we could have heard the term bold applied to us when we talked back to our parents: “Don’t be so bold, young lady! Now go to your room!” In this case bold means “impudent or presumptuous.” We may have gotten the message that being bold was not acceptable behaviour for girls.

Canada has a history of bold women. Against much opposition, women suffragists lobbied, protested and demonstrated for many years for women’s right to vote in Canada. In 1917, the first federal votes were granted to women who were in the military or who had relatives in the military. In the provinces and territories, voting rights were won province by province, often beginning with smaller groups of women (such as white women or landowners), with Quebec the last to achieve women’s suffrage in 1940. Canada’s Indigenous women were excluded from both federal and provincial suffrage efforts, and finally gained the right to vote in 1960.

The Famous Five activist women from Alberta took on a bold campaign in 1927 to petition to have women declared “persons” under the law so that they were eligible to be appointed to the Senate. The Canadian Supreme Court turned down the application. Undaunted, the Famous Five took the case to the British Judicial Privy Council and the Canadian ruling was overturned in 1929. Women are legally persons in our country due to the work of the Famous Five bold women.

In recent years, our Indigenous sisters and their allies have shown courage and fearlessness in the demand for an inquiry into the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada. Last year, the federal government began the inquiry, and we all wait for answers to the tragedy of the missing and murdered women and girls and for the families of missing and murdered women to have the support they need through this grim process.

In Prince Edward Island, groups of bold women lobbied, marched and pressured the government for three decades to make abortion care available again in our province. At the end of 2016, the provincial government established the Women’s Wellness Program at the Prince County Hospital to provide sexual and reproductive health services, including pregnancy termination, for Island women and people of all genders.

We have made much progress towards equality for women. So why do we still need to be bold for change?

Because women in Canada only earned 74 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2014. Because women still bear the burden of more caregiving responsibilities for both younger and older generations.

Because women in Canada continue to be victims of gender violence.

Because women are not represented equally in our municipal, provincial or federal governing bodies.

Because we can see from our neighbouring country to the south that rights can also be lost, as well as gained.

Let us all celebrate our achievements for women’s equality on International Women’s Day. And let us remember to continue to be bold, fearless, courageous, intrepid, take risks, and maybe even be impudent.

Don’t worry women and girls — if you are sent to your room, there will be bold women behind you, banging down the door!

 

Mari Basiletti is the chairperson of the P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women.