200 Million Fewer Women in the World: Recognizing International Women’s Day

“I don’t need a relationship to define who I am. I will be fine, I am a strong woman” – Unknown

International Women’s Day, March 8, is an annual occasion recognized worldwide by the United Nations, women’s groups, and other organizations that recognize the historical struggle of women for equality and social justice.This day assembles women of different racial, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic, and political backgrounds in unison to celebrate the significance of women’s struggles.As time passed this day has become an extended celebration of peace, strength, and inclusiveness among women and people of diverse social identities. First and foremost, the struggle of women for equality is so significant simply due to the fact that it was initially entrenched in supreme law and marriage vows. Marriage in the 1800’s granted men complete control of women including their bodies and inheritance. Women were controlled by their Fathers, brothers, and husbands, before having any self authority.Along with slaves, servants, the criminally insane, and men who did not own property, women were not recognized as citizens and did not earn the right to vote or participate in any political affairs.

The large enlistment of men in World War 1 resulted in a shortage of men taking on the roles of society, resulting in the exposure of women to different types of jobs that were not regularly taken on by women such, as heavy duty labour work, and certain administrative positions. Initially, the right for women to vote was permitted in increments starting with women who served as nurses in WW 1, then women who were British subjects and who were wives, widows, mothers, sisters and daughters of those who had served or were serving in the Canadian or British military or naval forces. Unmarried women and widows were first granted the right to vote in municipal elections in Ontario in 1884.Such limited voting rights were eventually approved in other provinces across Canada at the end of the 19th century.However, the bill for women to vote in provincial elections was continuously denied until Manitoba ultimately succeeded in 1916 with Alberta following the same year

These laws were eventually replaced with the 19th amendment passed in the United States on June 4, 1920, which was the same time women in Canada earned the right to vote and run for public office. It was not until 1960 that all women including indigenous women over the age of 18 regardless of ethnic background or origin were permitted to vote and run for office in Canada. In 1928, the Supreme Court ruled that women were not “persons” under the British North America Act, and therefore could not be appointed to senate. On October 18, 1929 women were finally declared “persons” under Canadian law and this historical victory was succeeded due to the perseverance of five Alberta Women, Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards.

Presently International Women’s Day is commemorated in several other countries (including Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Armenia to name a few) as a public holiday whereby government offices, businesses, and educational institutions are closed for the day.While embracing the importance of this day, women are building upon the tradition while acknowledging at least nine decades of struggle. International Women’s Day was initially celebrated by and later adopted by the United Nations to be celebrated on March 8 during International Women’s Year in 1975. Shortly after, in 1977, the U.N General Assembly endorsed a declaration to implement a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace, to be recognized by nations in accordance with their national traditions. The aims and objectives in implementing this resolution were to increase awareness on the vital role of women in peace efforts and development, with aims to end discrimination and achieve women’s full and equal contribution to the world.

On March 8, the Kawartha World Issues Centre held a World Issue’s Cafe in the presenting a forum discussion with this year’s theme posing the question, “How do we dismantle a culture that promotes violence and isolation?”The panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Nadine Changfoot, Associate Professor in Politics at Trent University while the guest speakers presented different perspectives of their struggles. Sid Jordan and Selma Al-Aswad came to Canada to join us from Seattle, USA, on behalf of the Re-teaching Gender and Sexuality Project and Put THIS on the MAP, discussing issues surrounding homelessness, emotional abandonment, and a lack of having a support network due to their gender and sexuality preferences in addition to heightened racial oppression especially after 9/11.

Paula Sherman, Associate Professor in Indigenous Studies, Trent University, and Co-Chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nations, went on to discuss the importance of decolonization and restoration of women’s knowledge, educating the youth, and re-establishing their relationship to the land. Professor Sherman also touched on the injustices that Indigenous women face due to colonial rule evident in the implementation of the Indian act, and the lack of attention paid to the hundreds of murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada, with their voices seldom heard.

Khadija Warsame, Community Activist and Speaker for the New Canadians Centre Speaker’s Bureau, spoke about her flee from the harsh political environment of Somalia with her two kids and pregnant condition, giving birth on the way during her remarkable journey through Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi, to be eventually sponsored by five Peterborough women, bringing her to where she is today.Khadija’s story is an inspiring story of determination, faith, and representing the strength within women. International Women’s Day continues to celebrate the historical significance of women’s struggles while addressing the disadvantages that women still face, within a context of social inclusiveness and a promotion of peace over all.