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OP ED: International Women’s Day should remind us there is a ways to go toward gender equity

Regina Leader-Post by Vianne Timmons 06 March 2019

On March 8, we will celebrate International Women’s Day, which has been formally recognized by the United Nations since 1975 as a time for everyone to reflect on the accomplishments of women and girls around the world.

But it is also a day to consider how we must address the challenges women still face, because in many ways, our world remains a difficult place for women. Sadly, young girls are denied education in some countries, and genital mutilation is a reality of life for many others. The exploitation of young women who are child brides or are forced into the sex trade continues, so-called “honour killings” still take place, and women in some parts of the world do not have the freedom to go outside without a male escort.

These sorts of injustices might seem far away from our experience as Canadians, but that is definitely not the case. Canada certainly is one of the better places in the world to be a woman — but it is not perfect in that respect, and never has been.

In saying this, I need only look as far as my own family’s experience. My grandmother grew up in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where she was taken out of school by her own parents in Grade 4 to become a housemaid. Her daughter — my mother — was afforded the opportunity to finish high school, but did not have the opportunity to attend university. She only did so much later in life, completing a university degree by correspondence — never once setting foot inside a university classroom — while raising six children at home.

Things have undoubtedly improved in Canada in terms of women’s education in recent decades, and my daughters and I have benefited from that. But we too have faced challenges, including sexual harassment and assault. Countless other women in Canada have their own heartbreaking stories of harassment, discrimination, pay inequity, and domestic violence. And the hundreds of cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in our country constitute a national tragedy.

I wish I could stand up and say that Canada leads the world in gender equity, but sadly I cannot. I do remain hopeful, however.

Gender equity is not an issue for women; it is an issue for all of us.  We need to keep talking about women’s issues, highlight the challenges and inequalities that exist for women, and put measures in place to remove these challenges.

And we need to recognize and address the challenges that are faced by others in Canada – Indigenous peoples, minorities, newcomers, members of the LGBTQ2+ community, and persons with disabilities, for example. Canada should be a just and fair place for everyone.

So on International Women’s Day — and every day, for that matter — let’s all reflect on the kind of country and world in which we want to live. Let’s work collectively to ensure that our daughters and granddaughters can say that in Canada, they and everyone else have equal opportunities in life.

Vianne Timmons is the President & Vice-Chancellor of the University of Regina