Post by former CYH blog team member Jannie.
When the world celebrated Women’s Day last year, I was shocked by the prevalent attitude that the battle for women’s rights had already been fought and won in Canada. I am always very curious to know the evidence behind statements that gender equality has been achieved. They could not possibly be referring to political participation, given the deplorable representation of women in parliament (25%) or the abysmal numbers of women in senior management positions (26%). Gender equality is often mistakenly represented as economic equality, but even this argument has no basis. Statistics Canada reported last year that women make 83 cents to every dollar made by men, a gap that has narrowed by a meager two cents in the past decade.
While I was working on a gender project in Nicaragua last year, locals often asked me about the position of women in Canada, whether there was more equality between women and men? I always hesitated in my answer. We in Canada constantly criticize countries of the South for their treatment of women, but do we treat our women any better? I usually responded that the gender issues are the same, but just more cleverly hidden in Canada.
The news stories these past months increasingly make me feel like we are moving backwards. Reports of a 16-year-old girl raped and re-victimized through Facebook, of a Winnipeg judge blaming the victim of sexual assault, of the federal government de-funding family planning programs, show the extent to which women’s rights are not being honoured. When I see anti-choice picketers on Broadway and Commercial, and hear the family members of the missing women who are ignored and made invisible, I realize just how far we are from reaching equality.
I agree that women in Canada have better opportunities than many other women in the world. But “better” is not synonymous with “equality,” and cannot be used as a reason to cease challenging the systemic barriers that prevent women from participating and thriving in our communities. Before we start dictating to other countries what their women should and should not do, we need to first look critically at ourselves and the role of women in our communities. Why do women experience significantly higher levels of poverty than men? Why do we read so few women authors at school? Why is the need for women-only spaces being contested?
Whether or not it is official Women’s Day, these inequalities continue to persist and affect us all. What is most troubling to me is the indifference – of both women and men – towards these issues. And at the heart of it is power: the same power dynamics that marginalize women in Nicaragua are challenging the struggles for equality in Canada; they are merely enacted in different ways. Sheila Rowbotham wrote, “men will often admit other women are oppressed but not you.” This is also true of women, and sadly, of the dominant discourse in Canada as well.