Celebrating International Women’s Day

Marisca writes about the importance of acknowledging how far women’s rights have come in Canada

International Women’s Day was last Sunday and it was celebrated all over the world.

The theme this year was I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights.

International Women’s Day goes back more than a hundred years.

The Second International Socialist Women’s Conference was held in Copenhagen in 1910 where it was decided to pick a day to protest for female suffrage, later coined as International Women’s Day.

On March 8, 1917 tens of thousands of Russian women took to the streets demanding change and they won the right to vote in that year’s election. March 8 has since become a public holiday in that country.

In 1975, the United Nations officially recognized International Women’s Day.

It is celebrated across the world and is an official holiday in 20 countries.

In Canada, women were given the right to vote in some provinces in 1916 but it wasn’t until 1922 that all white and black women were given the right to vote in every province except Quebec. Women in Quebec did not receive full suffrage until 1940. Indigenous women (and men) weren’t allowed to vote in federal elections until 1960, without giving up their treaty status.

As a mom of two daughters, this is an important day for me. I want to raise strong girls and I don’t want anything to stand in their way of achieving their goals. I also don’t want them to ever be discriminated against just because they are female.

Women’s rights in Canada have come a long way. In 1909, the Criminal Code was amended to criminalize the kidnapping of women. Before this, the abduction of any woman over 16 was legal, except if she was an heiress. And it wouldn’t be until 1983 that the passing of Bill C-127 would make sexual assault within marriage a crime.

While women have gained more rights there is still more work to do. According to Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey on Victimization women self-reported 553,000 sexual assaults in 2014. Also according to Statistics Canada, women were 10 times more likely than men to be victims of a police-reported sexual assault in 2008. So much can be done to reduce these rates individually, legally and as a society. The recent #timesup and #metoo movements are helping to shed some light on the issue.

Also in Canada, women are generally considered to be paid less than men in the workforce. The Department for Women and Gender Equality Canada did a report in 2018 that found female employees aged 25 to 54 earned $4.13 (or 13.3 per cent less) less per hour, on average, than their male counterparts. In other words, these women earned $0.87 for every dollar earned by men. The gap in pay has been closing over the years but there is still a large difference.

On the political front, there is a record number of female Members of Parliament, with 88 women elected to the 338-member House of Commons of Canada in the last federal election. In 2017 four more women were elected in by-elections.

While this is good that the number is rising, women still only represent 27 per cent of the House. Moreover, Canada still has not had an elected female Prime Minister.

I hope that as a society we continue to move toward total and complete gender equality and I will make sure that I continue to advocate for girl power.


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