October was women’s history month in Canada and the theme of this year’s celebration was “Through her lens: celebrating the diversity of women.” This celebration was intended to highlight the achievement of women and center their experiences creating awareness on the unique challenges they face as well as highlighting their achievement. This theme of the celebration took an intersectional approach. Women of color, women in the LGBTQ2S+ community, and women with disabilities occupy a unique position, and their experiences of life are distinct, hence the need to create spaces that cater to this difference. As a multicultural country built on settler colonialism and structural racism, it is very important that the experiences of women of colour are brought to the forefront. This intersectional approach allowed for the diverse experiences of different groups to be highlighted. However, with a seemingly smaller percentage of the populace being aware of this, how effective is this effort towards creating awareness?
Interestingly, for a month that should spread awareness and celebrate women, a lot of people are not aware of this celebration and the significance of this month. Prime Minister, Trudeau, released a statement in which he highlights women of colour who have achieved great feats and expresses how women are increasingly breaking the glass ceiling, attributing some of these achievements to social programs created by the government.
In the statement he said, “Today, we are seeing record-high employment rates for Canadian women, thanks in part to our new child care system, which has already increased the number of child care spaces, cut fees at least in half, and will deliver $10-a-day child care to families right across the country in the coming years,” highlighting how the childcare program piloted by the government is increasing women’s ability to pursue employment.
It is easy to argue that this effort by the government is performative at best. There are barely any events or posts made to spread awareness about this important celebration. Also, attributing the success of women of colour to social programs made by the government is belittling, especially when history reveals that the system has worked against them. Women have constantly had to work and protest twice as hard to achieve what they have and limiting their achievement to social programs without addressing how they were lobbied for is demeaning. Women breaking the glass ceiling can be largely attributed to their resilience and lobbying which is not expressed in Trudeau’s statement.
What is also missing from the Prime Minister’s address is the many structural and social factors that significantly inhibit women’s access to such excellence. He mentions the daycare program that provides subsidies to the price of daycare and provides more daycare services for parents as one of the efforts the government has made to allow women more access. (IN BIG 2023? But I digress).
Women have been lobbying for childcare services since the 1900s and this program is only just rolling out with its completion predicted for 2026. I hesitate to commend the government for rolling out a program that women have been lobbying for for decades. Furthermore, women are still finding it extremely difficult to access childcare services, with data showing that Ontario only has licensed childcare for 20% of all children. Evidently, women are still faced with significant difficulties in this sector.
The theme of this year included an intersectional approach to addressing the disadvantages that women face however, with a high margin of difference between the opportunities available to women of colour. There are still stark disparities between women of colour and other groups. They earn less and are more likely to have low-income and part time jobs. Women of colour are discriminated against in the healthcare and criminal justice system, and they do not see a lot of representation in political positions. Indigenous and trans women are still more susceptible to harm and violence. It is commendable that the government should take an intersectional approach, as there are structural factors that leave women of diverse backgrounds at a disadvantage, however, an acknowledgement of this reality is missing in the Prime Minister's speech.
For a month that should spread awareness of women and their experiences, there isn’t much awareness about this month and its significance. It highlights the inefficiency of relegating one month to spotlight an issue without actively planning events and activities that help achieve the goal. With this view, it is easy to see this celebration as purely performative. There simply wasn’t enough media coverage and awareness activities planned to spotlight the celebration and spread awareness. It seemed much like a tick a box event to portray the government as supporting women. This attempt demonstrated little effort towards changing the status quo, addressing the inequalities that have been perpetuated by the system, providing awareness, and celebrating women.
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