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Our national anthem should be gender neutral

The Hill Times by Kim Campbell, Elizabeth May, Mylène Freeman, Carolyn Bennett, Nancy Ruth 23 February 2015

Apparently Canada is in a club of two – with Zambia – on the national anthem front. But Bill C-624, up for second reading this week, gives us the opportunity to rectify that.

It seeks to restore our national anthem to its gender neutral and inclusive origins, asking Parliamentarians to replace “thy sons” with “of us”. Doing so will cost taxpayers nothing, but signal to women and girls across Canada that they’re valued every bit as much as their brothers, fathers and sons.
Politicians understand the power of language. They regularly exploit its subtleties, knowing when to cry “torture”, and when to speak of “enhanced interrogation techniques”. They strategically characterize their own spending as “making smart investments for the longterm,” and their opponents’ as “mortgaging our children’s future.”

And, just like the rest of us, they’re unlikely to ever mistakenly refer to their daughters as “sons”!
Moreover, having presided over Canada Day events and attended citizenship ceremonies, they appreciate the respect that Canadians feel for our national symbols. And the anthem is the one in which we actively participate, standing tall to sing it at sporting events and graduation ceremonies. So what could be more respectful than honouring the intent of its original lyrics?

It’s astonishing to think that a mere two words stand between Canadians and a national anthem that explicitly includes women – not just those who wear Olympic hockey jerseys, police badges and military uniforms, but also those who pay their taxes, raise their kids and contribute to their communities in other, less celebrated ways.

Consider the international context. In researching a book on anthems, British journalist Alex Marshall has identified only three countries in which the lyrics to the national song have been criticized for excluding women. Austria was one of these, but the northern European country adopted gender neutral words three years ago with minimal resistance. Even the male members of the country’s most tradition-bound party agreed to support the revision after just a few days of hesitation.
That leaves Canada competing for last place with Zambia. The African nation’s anthem refers to “brothers” and “sons”, while failing to mention “sisters” or “daughters”. This is perhaps not surprising in a country ranked among the worst in the world on women’s equality scales by both the Human Development Index and the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap. Maternal mortality is high and the lives of many Zambian women are stunted by poverty, violence and a justice system that continues to rely on discriminatory laws.

Does Canada belong in its company?

Our citizens are concerned about a range of important public policy issues, and they want Parliament to invest time and resources in addressing our most pressing priorities. But resolving this matter will require nothing more than approving a two-word change. The amendment is infinitely simpler than redesigning a flag, or introducing a new charter.

Are you sceptical? Before you condemn Canada to remaining Zambia’s twin, try singing the proposed words to yourself; you might be surprised at how right they sound: “In all of us command…”

The phrase – in addition to including 18 million Canadians previously left out – places the emphasis right where it should be: on the shared responsibility that all of us owe to making Canada the best that it’s capable of being, now and in the future.

All of Us are ready to embrace this minute but momentous change.