Celebrating International Women’s Day – March 8
This year’s United Nations’ theme for International Women’s Day is “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!” The International Women’s Day theme is “Make It Happen,” with a dedicated hashtag (#MakeItHappen) for social media. International Women’s Day 2015 commemorates the 20th anniversary year of the Bejing Declaration and Platform for Action, an historic path that charts the future and sets the agenda “for realizing women’s rights.”
On March 8, 2015 Canadians, governments, organizations and activists across the country will celebrate, respect and honour women’s social, political and economic achievements, while also taking time to acknowledge the ongoing courage and resilience of women here and around the world who still suffer poverty, violence and discrimination. Full equality and equity for girls and women are worthy goals and we know all too well that the struggle is far from over.
In 2012, while Canadian women made up over 50% of Canada’s total population, their average wage was just 75.6% of the average wage for Canadian men. It’s true that Canada has made progress to protect and promote women’s rights, opportunities and equality; but despite such positive movement, Canadian women are still outnumbered by men in almost every employment sector, especially in senior executive positions at all levels of government, in political office and in corporate board rooms.
The number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide is about 1.3 billion, with women reported to bear an unequal share of the burden of poverty — 70% of those living in poverty are women. Women who do work generally earn less than half the wages of men for doing the same work. In many of the world’s nations, women are most often the victims of domestic, social, cultural or religious violence and have little or no access to education.
A number of issues demonstrate how serious gender disparity exacerbates poverty for women and one is “access to safe drinking water…without ready access to safe water, the poor — especially women and girls — spend much of their time scavenging for water.” Statistics related to lack of safe drinking water and sanitation are disturbing, suggesting that “80% of all diseases in the developing world are caused by unsafe drinking water and sanitation…and that as a result, girls and women tend to suffer the most.” A second issue is “illiteracy — two thirds of the world’s 876 million illiterates are women.”
These are sobering statistics and remind us that we must continue to organize, fund raise and remain socially and politically active, to help change the lives of women in Canada and around the world. According to the World Bank, growing evidence confirms that “when greater equality exists between women and men, economies tend to grow faster, the poor move more quickly out of poverty and the well being of women, men and children is enhanced.” Putting investments into the economic, social and political development of women is positive for policy makers too, particularly when there is greater emphasis on gender equality.
Two world leaders spoke bluntly about the condition of women in the developing world. Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa, said that “Women are terrifyingly vulnerable…everywhere that gender has been depreciated in this world, comes back to haunt you, and it is haunting us with a vengeance in Southern Africa.” Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, emphasized in a 2003 International Women’s Day special address “the need for urgent action.” He added, “There is no time to lose…When women thrive, all of society benefits, and succeeding generations are given a better start in life.”
Once again this year, I am honoured to celebrate International Women’s Day in the company of wonderful women who make a difference every day to their families, their friends and their communities. They are sisters, daughters, mothers, grandmothers and aunts and while they are all diverse, they seem to share two important traits — they have relentless energy to remain active and they believe that all things are possible.
International Women’s Day is not only significant for women but also for men and men and women all over this country and the world will be celebrating together. As Guy Dauncey once said, we must “get involved, stay involved and be an activist so that you can sleep at night.” I agree, and so would Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “A woman is like a tea bag — you never know how strong she is until she’s in hot water.” We have a lot of hot water ahead of us and our strength lies in working together, because together, we know that all things are possible.