By Lisa Bland –
International Women’s Day, acknowledged globally on March 8, arose out of a political response to suffrage (the right to vote) and other conditions for women at the turn of the century. In modern times and in more gender balanced nations, recognition of this day includes respect, appreciation, and love towards women and recognizing their economic, political, and social achievements. In some regions, a political and human rights theme designated by the United Nations aims to create political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide. In some countries, such as Afghanistan, China (for women only), Russia, Cuba, Ukraine, Nepal (for women only), and Vietnam, the day is an official holiday.
Although much work is being done in our culture to promote peace and balance between genders, and many men actively engage in respectful and supportive attitudes towards women, it is difficult to view anything clearly without stepping outside of one’s reference point, especially if one occupies a position of power and privilege.
In my personal life I don’t feel I’ve experienced substantial limitations due to gender, and feel I experienced gender equality in the home, but when I look closer and on more subtle levels, I see often it was because I competed adequately on a playing field dominated by masculine qualities in the workplace and compensated with other behaviours in order to not be discounted as a female.
The reality is that qualities traditionally assigned to females – empathy, sensitivity, gentleness, nurturing, caring, and emotion – are not given equal relevance in our society in comparison to forceful, active, decisive, analytical, competitive, and ambition oriented male traits.
From Jian Ghomeshi’s sexist behaviour and abuse towards women, hidden for years to protect star power and network ratings, to comedian Bill Cosby for decades downplaying and shaming claims of sexual abuse; from the lack of mobilization on an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada, to statistics on abuse against women nationally and globally and salary inequities in the workplace—the issue is intrinsic to the fabric of our society.
Even at the most superficial level we find bias—an analysis of Disney movies in the past few years shows male actors’ screen minutes outnumbered females in starring roles by a two to one ratio, with women speaking a minority of the dialogue compared to male characters.
Historical cross-cultural gender analysis has shown that equality across genders is rare, and patriarchy is nearly universally prevalent. According to anthropological evidence, most prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies were egalitarian or relatively equal in social status and gender equity until approximately 6000 years ago (4000 BCE). Various anthropological theories attempt to explain why patriarchal societies developed, and whether the differences are biological or social in origin.
Theories include social and technological advancements like agriculture and animal domestication allowing men to dominate the food source while females focused on childrearing, greater physical strength leading to dominance in males, and males having more time for the development of theories related to religion and war while travelling for warring purposes.
In The Creation of Patriarchy, Gerda Lerner notes while there are a few exceptions, male domination and female subordination are predominant in virtually all societies, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, or religion. Most patriarchal societies have adopted characteristics associated with male domination, notably aggression and power, as well as their consequences—war and destruction.
Although the historical significance of gender inequity can’t be understated, in the past century some progress in closing the gender gap has occurred in some regions. The changes brought about by mobilization of women in the past 100 + years and the creation of a day to celebrate women has brought us to a place where we are engaged in a global discussion.
The formalization of women’s rights and creation of International Women’s Day began in Europe and America, as movements advocating women’s rights gained momentum at the turn of the century. In 1908 amidst a political climate of unrest and debate, women became vocal against conditions of oppression and inequality. In 1908 in New York City, 15,000 women marched through the streets demanding shorter hours, better pay, and voting rights.
Political momentum in Europe, predominantly the German Social Democratic Party, led to the creation of an annual International Woman’s Day in 1910 at a women’s conference with delegates of over 100 women from 17 countries to advocate for women’s suffrage and employment rights. In 1911, International Women’s Day was first celebrated and recognized by over a million people in Europe. IWD rallies campaigned for women’s rights to work, hold public office, vote, be trained, and address discrimination.
In 1975, International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations, and in 1996 the UN proposed a theme for each year. Since then themes such as, Women at the Peace Table, Women and Human Rights, World Free of Violence Against Women, Empower Rural Women, End Poverty & Hunger, and in 2013, A Promise is a Promise – Time for Action to End Violence Against Women have been promoted.
In 2016, International Women’s Day marks a call to action for gender parity. According to the site, www.internationalwomensday.com, despite the achievements of women, progress has slowed in many places worldwide. In 2015 the World Economic Forum predicted it would take until 2133 to achieve global gender parity.
Women are still not paid equally to their male co-workers, women are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s education, health, and the violence against them is worse than that of men.
According to Statistics Canada, 70 per cent of the victims of family violence are girls or women. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 120 million girls worldwide (1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives. The most common perpetrators of sexual violence against girls are current or former husbands, partners, or boyfriends.
The BC group, Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) (www.bwss.org) is a feminist voice against violence and oppression offering support and advocacy programs and services for girls and women experiencing violence/abuse.
The website states that to understand the statistics on violence against women, you have to be willing to recognize that each statistic represents a woman, child, or family – a life – torn apart by violence and abuse. The organization suggests violence against women, while punishable in society, is often covered up or silently condoned.
Rather than being a private issue, it’s a public health issue and a community concern for all. To create a more equitable society, it’s up to every individual to take immediate action to support and empower women by joining and advocating for the anti-violence movement, and to use our voices and power to advocate for change so our mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, daughters, and partners are valued, safe, and empowered.
For statistics and facts on violence against women worldwide, across Canada, and in BC, visit: www.bwss.org/resources/information-on-abuse/numbers-are-people-too/.
At the recent Progress Towards Parity panel during the World Economic Forum’s meeting this year in Switzerland, Justin Trudeau touched on men’s role in supporting women, stating we shouldn’t be afraid of the word feminist.
“Men have to be part of the conversation,” he said, “My wife, Sofie, said it’s great that you’re engaged with empowering your daughter, but you need to talk to your sons about how they’ll support women. Don’t be afraid of the word feminist and in supporting equality and demanding a shift.”
World renowned feminist, and political activist Gloria Steinem states, “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”
Celebrate International Women’s Day this March 8 by pledging to help achieve gender parity more quickly—whether to help women and girls access greater choices in fulfilling their goals, pushing for gender-balanced leadership, respecting and valuing feminine qualities in the world, and personally taking action against workplace bias.
Happy International Women’s Day! Celebrate the beautiful and amazing women in your life on March 8 and every day.
Lisa has lived in wild, beautiful places as long as she can remember. The tidal pools, coastal rainforests, and friendly rural communities of Northwest British Columbia shaped her sense of place, passion, and commitment to caring for the world. Lisa has been involved in writing and publishing for the last 18 years and is the Editor in Chief and Publisher of TheGreenGazette. She has volunteered with numerous conservation groups and has worked in field research doing forestry, fisheries, bird, and plant studies. She holds certificates in Professional Publication Writing and Magazine Publishing and has lived in the Cariboo Region on and off for the past 20 years. Lisa attempts to juggle her passion for writing, photography, and activism with time spent outside exploring wild places. Nature is by far her favourite and most inspiring teacher.