In 1977, International Women's Day was officially proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly as day to recognize that securing peace and social progress required the active participation, and full equality and development of women. Ever since, International Women's Day, held on March 8, is a day for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and an opportunity to unite, network and pursue fuller equity.
For women in Canada there has been advancement since 1977, but not enough. On average, working women in Canada are paid on average 30% less than men for equal work of equal value — while the Harper government continues to ignore the 2007 Pay Equity Task Force to address this inequality. The same government's refusal to consider a national, publically funded childcare has continued the crisis of limited access to affordable, good quality childcare. This blocks many women from working and puts them at a higher risk of living in poverty.
The current EI system also fails women, for many work part-time (40% compared to 10% for men) and often don't bank sufficient hours to qualify for EI benefits if they become unemployed or take maternity leave. The lack of affordable housing and emergency shelter is another obstacle to women progressing out of poverty, with one in five single mothers and their children now living below the poverty line.
But the Harper government has other priorities — like billions for fighter jets and billions more in tax cuts for corporations, for instance. For this government, there is no profit in promoting a fairer, fuller life for women and their families.
Canada can do better, and it must, to end the systemic barriers that Sisters continue to face. Helping the unorganized to organize is one way we can assist Sisters in achieving equity. Being vigilant against workplace discrimination, harassment and violence is another. Helping to elect family-friendly governments to reverse the right-wing agenda is also fundamental to a future that is equal and progressive.
On International Women's Day, March 8, let us celebrate our Sisters' achievements, and renew our commitment to mobilize for meaningful change.