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The war for women’s rights is not over

The Mark By Janni Aragon 10 March 2011

The progress women have made in recent times shouldn’t be used to demean the challenges they still face.

Wouldn’t it be great if the Globe and Mail ran a regular column that responded to Margaret Wente’s? It doesn’t and I’m not a journalist, but I will respond here to her op-ed of March 8 (International Women’s Day).

“Let’s spare the lamentations for the so-called decline of feminism. The war for women’s rights is over. And we won,” Wente declares with regard to western women. Well, in Wente’s world, “western women” are all white, affluent, and well-educated. I’m not sure where she lives, but this is not the reality I see on campus at the University of Victoria or in San Diego, Los Angeles, or Orange and Riverside counties in Southern California. In fact, there is no one “reality” – women have various realities, in the West and elsewhere.

There is no doubt that the 20th and 21st centuries have seen some of the greatest advances ever for women’s rights. For example, more women now complete high school and attend college. Our social mores and social policies, however, have not adapted at the same rate. Women still do more care work in and outside the home than men do. We see that the economic gender gap has increased – and that’s without disaggregating the numbers for different racial and ethnic groups, which would reveal an even wider gap. And women might live longer, but they are more apt to work in the “pink-collar ghetto.” As a result, the feminization of poverty continues. More women are poor and/or vulnerable.

And those poor, vulnerable women, or their daughters, are less likely to graduate from high school. This, of course, influences college enrollment numbers. So we don’t see equal numbers of enrollment across the board for women of different socioeconomic classes and racial backgrounds.

Canada still might have some of the most educated women in the western world – but even if the economic gender gap were decreasing, as Wente suggests, when so few leaders of Fortune 500 companies are women, there is more work to be done. When aboriginal women constitute some 20 to 25 per cent of the federally incarcerated, even though Aboriginal Peoples as a whole constitute only four per cent of the population in Canada, there is more work to be done. This isn’t just a Canadian problem; racialized women and women of colour in the U.S. are also over-represented in prisons. Political activist Angela Davis and activist scholar Julia Sudbury have both spoken to the problems of racism and the U.S. prison-industrial complex.

Aboriginal women, in fact, might be among those “last remnants of women’s grievance groups” who “keep griping,” according to Wente. The war in the West has been won? Tell that to the families of the more than 600 missing or murdered aboriginal women. We also need to understand that aboriginal women’s lives are still touched by colonization and neocolonization. It is too simplistic to say that women have made it in the West.

Ms. Wente, the struggle is not over. We have to acknowledge that more work needs to be done. I can only hope that contrary to what you say in your column, in your heart you realize that the war continues.