International Women’s Day 2016: Reflections through a Canadian Lens

Canada’s theme for International Women’s Day in 2016 is “Women’s Empowerment Leads to Equality”.  It’s a theme that leaves us asking, “But doesn’t it also work the other way around?  Doesn’t equality also lead to empowerment? And which comes first?” Part of the empowerment process according to Status of Women Canada is “understanding our right to live free from violence”. 

Women won’t be empowered unless supports for survivors are in place. Consider the Jian Ghomeshi trial.  Wouldn’t actress Lucy DeCoutere be considered empowered?  She’s an independent, successful professional who was also a captain in the Canadian Air Force.  Her interview on CBC’s The Current was eloquent and direct when she was questioned about the abuse she experienced.  Lucy understood her right to live free from violence.  But it seems certain that she wasn’t feeling empowered or treated with equality after her ‘whacking’ by the defense and encounter with the criminal justice system.

There’s no denying that violence against women is a plague across the globe and it hinders women’s access to personal and economic parity in countless ways. There are missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada – and their number keeps growing.  Half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16 and two-thirds of Canadians say they personally know at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted.  These are the sobering realities in spite of the fact that we live in one of the most peaceful and equality-conscious countries on the planet.

In spite of the dark realities, there is also cause to celebrate on March 8th, International Women’s Day:

  • We have a Premier in Ontario who has publicly identified with social justice and gender equality
  • We have an Ontario provincial sexual violence and harassment action plan that is clear in condemning misogyny and the rape culture as root causes of violence against women
  • The Premier has established a permanent VAW Roundtable
  • We have a new Prime Minister who has identified as a feminist and has made domestic violence a priority issue.
  • PM Trudeau has committed to moving on all of the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • The Prime Minister has also committed to a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women

Yes, we still have a long way to go, it’s clear that “empowering” ourselves through an understanding of our rights is not enough. We need more leaders willing to take concrete steps in declaring themselves as champions for women. Celebrate International Women’s Day this year!