OPINION: Why We Privileged Women Should Care About International Women's Day.
Tuesday, March 8, 2016: Today, at Selkirk College in Castlegar, local women are being celebrated for their achievements under our relatively enlightened culture. Yesterday, a BC man was sentenced to 21 years in prison without any chance of parole for murdering his ex-girlfriend because he saw her studying at a university campus in the company of another man. In some other parts of the world, women are routinely killed by the males in their families, for having different opinions from those men, for objecting to being married off at the age of 14 (or so) by their fathers to men often much older than they are, or for being in the company of a man their families have not arranged for them to see; in many places, women are still subjected to Female Genital Mutilation, which is designed to prevent them from being able to have sex at all without a further mutilation, and to prevent them from enjoying sex — ever. And in refugee camps now, women are being attacked and raped — just because they are women. In Saudi Arabia, religious interpretations and their cultural acceptance deny women the right to drive cars or to be in the same public spaces as men. And we are all famiilar with the history of Malala, who as a young girl, not so long ago, was shot for promoting the idea that girls should be able to go to school.
International Women’s Day began over a hundred years ago and has been celebrated in many countries ever since, but was formally recognized by the United Nations only in 1975. It wasn’t until 1929 that women in Canada were recognized by the law as “persons,” and that came about only as a result of a decision of the Privy Council in England, at that time the highest authority in Canadian law. Women in Canada gained the right to vote at different times — certain women could vote in Canadian federal elections in 1917, but it wasn’t until 1960 that First Nations women were allowed to vote without restrictions.
And until 1969, birth control — contraception – was a criminal act.
We women in Canada are privileged to have the rights we do. Yes, some of us still suffer discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere, but most of us are safe from “honour killings” and from having the law turn an entirely blind eye if we are raped — though our justice system’s response to rape has a long way to go before it can be said to be fair to rape victims. This has been the subject of a number of articles, including this one in the National Post and another in Macleans magazine. It has also been the subject of a number of scholarly papers written by lawyers; including one by David Tanovich, Professor of Law at the University of Windsor, that describes the common practice of “whacking the complainant” in any rape case — and how our courts too often permit that practice to go on to egregiously abusive lengths.
In other words, we have come a long way in Canada — but we still have a long way to go before we have fully equal (or equivalent) treatment in our lives, and under the law. Many of us are complacent because we haven’t had our noses rubbed in the particular ways that Canadian culture fails to acknowledge women’s equality; and because we are not living in those countries where women are denied the right to go to school and to make decisions about their own lives.
Can we rest easy as things are? No women should feel truly comfortable about the rights we have gained so far unless we stand with women all over the world to press urgently for a global culture of respect and equality.