Skip to content

International Women’s Day: Who Runs the World? Well maybe not quite yet…

March 8, 2012

A post in celebration of International Women’s Day.  Before you stop reading, thinking I’m not interested in Women’s Issues, I beg you, even if it’s just for these 5 minutes on this one day, please just humour me, who knows you might learn something. In exchange I promise you, the next post will be an adventure-filled Post complete with police chases, rides in old WW2 airplanes, and visits to remote communities far-off in the savannah.

Today, March 8th is International Women’s Day. It’s a day to celebrate all that is feminine. But as much as I love being a woman and cherish all the wonderful women in my life, as much as it should be a day of celebration, a day to rejoice in how far we’ve come; I can’t help but focus on how far we still have to go.

Authorities from various Indigenous Groups, Women's Day Panel, March 7, 2012, ONIC.

We held a Women’s Day panel discussion at ONIC yesterday, and it was empowering to hear a panel of all-women Indigenous Authorities addressing the crowd. But as an introduction, our Consejero Mayor (president of ONIC) started his speech with; I won’t talk too much today because today and tomorrow we should listen to the women’s voices. And as well-meaning as that statement was, I couldn’t help but think to myself the sad reality is that even within a human rights organization – sometimes that’s about as far as it goes; they’ll listen to us today and tomorrow, and then get on with their show.

That may not be all of your experiences but having visited more than 50 countries and having lived in 8, I can tell you that discrimination against women is the one constant I have observed in every single society I’ve visited in this world. Well ok, along with Coca-Cola and soccer. So inequality of women, Coca-Cola and soccer are the constants I’ve observed.

Some of you are probably thinking to yourselves, that is so passé, that was our mothers’ and our grandmothers’’ Cause-Celeb, but that just isn’t the case. As far as they got us, the work just isn’t done. Although Canadian society did its best to hide this fact from us during our childhoods. The summer after graduation it hit me like a ton of bricks. Working as an around-the-clock caretaker for adults with physical and mental disabilities I was making what worked out to less than 2$/hour while half the guys from my high school were standing on the road with a Stop sign in a construction hat making their first year’s tuition in a few weeks. Well that was your choice you say, you could work in construction too, it’s hard work standing in the beating sun all day. Of course it is, but so is changing adult diapers, so is giving constant love to people who just scream at you and physically assault you with no comprehension of what they are doing, so is being present when they have to call in a priest to read the last rights to someone you’ve been caring for around the clock (And yes, I realize that some caretakers are men). The real question isn’t the difficulty of each task; the question is how we value “Women’s work” or jobs that are traditionally held by women in general.

Suffragettes hard at work.

Nellie McClung and the Famous Five Statue, Ottawa. Don't know who these ladies are? Look them up!

I never planned to work with “Women’s issues”, it just kind of happened. As a child the answer to “what I wanted to be when I grow up” changed every year, but the constant theme was that I wanted to work for justice. Except maybe the year I wanted to be the first woman to play in the major leagues, but my myopia put an end to that. Or the year I wanted to be a Supermodel, where do I start…let’s just say my height put an end to that. But I didn’t want to work in women’s rights – Boring, I thought. I wanted to Save the Rhinos, or the Manatees, or be the next Diane Fossey. But the truth is that as I began to travel and volunteer, and well, just live, I no longer had a choice. This is the one injustice that hit me over and over again, regardless of where I was in this world.

And if you say you don’t see it you’re either incredibly lucky or have your eyes closed to what is really going on around you.

No one wants to talk about it, but it’s not just girls being sold into prostitution rings  at the age of 10 or women having acid thrown in their faces in far-off countries (Article on “Saving Face”, Academy Award Winner 2012) . It’s treating girls differently (and not different but equal) than boys, date rape, and spousal abuse and not being paid the same for our work, and companies not being able to figure out a structure that works for maternity leaves and joking at work about women and “their babies”. It affects the poor and the rich alike, it’s women all around you who have been sexually abused by their partners and girls from the most well-off families that were abused by their parents’ friends throughout their childhoods, it’s partners at law firms who put their hands on female articling students’ thighs and no one doing a thing about it.

These are the stories of girls and women that I have worked with all over the world.

It’s sitting around a table at work in a “human rights” organization where even there, you’re the only woman at the table and the men are discussing who should go on the next work trip,  choosing the men by abilities, the women on their looks. Even living in Switzerland, the international headquarters of Human Rights, we learned the last Canton in that country didn’t allow women to vote until 1991 (UN (Committee on Women’s Issues (CEDAW) Report). You read that right, 1991. And even being in an LL.M. programme specialized in International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law, one professor had no idea that International Women’s Day existed. It seems like even though people have now come around to talking about Human Rights (and we have come a long way, I was considered a “hippie” in undergrad when I tried to tell people about this government called “the Taliban”). Well it’s the same thing with Aboriginal rights, no one wants to talk about that either, but my experience this year is that even if you can get people to talk about Aboriginal Rights, mention more than a word about Aboriginal Women’s Rights – and then they turn and run (Oh, and a tip, if you want Girls’ rights to be noticed you better use the term “Children’s Rights” because the second it’s “girl”, we’re out of here).

Sadly I could give you examples for the next two weeks, but I won’t, because I’ll lose half of you as readers, maybe I already have.

You might say it’s the same for men, but take my word for it, after visiting, and really listening to people, in more than 50 societies, I can promise you that it’s not. In literally every situation I’ve worked in I’ve seen it, whether it’s victims of the armed conflict whose most immediate worry was not only the use of rape as a tool of war, but the constant physical abuse from their frustrated companeros, to friends telling you of personal experiences they’ve faced, to showing up month after month to act as Duty Counsel in our own courts to find that 80% of those who can’t afford a lawyer are women, and that although they maybe there as a result of a landlord-tenant dispute, once you dig a little deeper, that landlord dispute is often as a result of them having to flee an abusive husband and not being able to pay their rent.

One of ONIC's lawyers explaining the situation of indigenous women in Colombia during 2011-2012.

Indigenous Authority from the Sierra Nevada, speaking in celebration of International Women`s Day.

These are the stories I’ve heard first hand, from women all over the world. Now, in our lifetimes.

Many women and men I know don’t want to talk about women’s “issues”, it is somehow still taboo. But it’s not some taboo topic that has nothing to do with you, it’s your mother, your sisters, your friends, it’s you. And some of you may say, well that’s not true, none of my friends or acquaintances have told me things like that, well maybe think about why they haven’t told you. The latest number from the UN is that 1 out of 3 women in the world will face gender-based violence by the time they are adults. That is not someone else’s problem. It is all of our problem. (I am having trouble opening up the UN WomenWatch Stats Page this a.m. for the reference but that’s the latest stat I’ve read, also mentioned in this talk given by Sheyrl wuDunn one of the authors of Half the Sky).

The head of ONIC's Women, Gender, and Family Division, addressing the crowd in hounour of International Women's Day.

A former colleague once said to me, well I don’t have children so it’s never been an issue for me. All I can say again is, you’re either extremely lucky or walking around with your eyes closed. And if you are that lucky why not use your position to help all of the other women who aren’t as lucky as you, or at very least, be conscious of it and not shut down the topic when others bring it up.  Even if you have no interest in personally working on Women’s’ Issues, at least help create a positive space so that others may do so. People will say, but look at her and her, she’s made partner or she has her own business. Although they are wonderful role models for girls, that’s not the end of the story, it’s only the beginning. The rest of the story is making it as possible for girls to get there as for boys. What it takes for a woman to get there is often a completely different story, many of these Wonderwomen juggle several jobs, mother, partner, house-manager, volunteer and you wonder when they’re going to collapse (or where you can get a prescription for that) and others are women who had to act like men to get there. Including those who whether knowingly or not, stepped on other women along the way, said best by Madeleine Albright in one of my favourite quotes of all time There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other (See Madeleine Albright on Being a Woman and a Diplomat at minute 12:30).

You may say, but it’s not like that, or that hasn’t been my experience. And that’s fine, you don’t have to agree with me, but this has been my experience.

You may think by now that I hate men, but that’s not the case at all, I have many wonderful men in my life whose eyes are wide open to this, including a supportive fiance who thought to wish me a Happy Women’s Day this morning and my brother, who was in fact, the only person to realize I was purposely making a “feminist” statement by wearing huge hoop earrings and bright red lipstick on my first day as a litigator.  I am so tired of hearing people, saying a woman-friendly statement only to follow it up with but I’m not a Feminist. The word “Feminist” means wanting equality for men and women but sadly the old radical-feminist image is what comes to mind and people still refuse to use it. But all it means is that you believe that men and women are equal, that men and women, boys and girls, should have an equal status in our society.

That’s not being a radical feminist, that’s being a decent Human Being.

So on this Women’s Day I challenge you to two things (and then I promise to stop preaching);

1. To not just listen to women’s voices today and tomorrow but to start listening to them. Full Stop.

2. To openly call yourself a Feminist, even if you’re a man, and if anyone flinches when you say it, just say it means that I believe men and women are equal and should hold an equal place in our world.

Thank you for reading.

p.s. Although sadly, I’m sure by this point I’ve lost many readers, I promise the following post will be a light and exciting tale of my recent travels through the remote savannah of South-Eastern Colombia.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Elva permalink
    March 8, 2012 8:35 pm

    Hi Allison, saw this quote in The Daily Gleaner “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people’ Cheris Kramarae and Paula Treichler, sad but true. Keep up the good work, xo Mum

  2. Lindsay permalink
    March 8, 2012 8:44 pm

    Thanks for this Al. xoxo Lindsay

  3. March 8, 2012 8:56 pm

    Thanks for the comments Mum and Lins! Lots of love, xo

  4. March 8, 2012 11:44 pm

    Love this. Thanks for posting about the F word. I like this quote from the Dalai Lama: “I call myself a feminist. Isn’t that what you call someone who fights for women’s rights? We all come from the same mother. That creates the basis for compassion.”

  5. Sarah Corey permalink
    March 19, 2012 5:52 pm

    You are awesome, and I am right there behind you, I held an International Women’s Day event here in ole Freddy Beach and I had over 200 women attend and participate in the day…..

  6. permalink
    April 5, 2012 8:29 pm

    Alison -just got around to reading this article. It says it all, what great read, we all
    should be proud to stand up and say we are feminist. Keep up the good work,
    we are so proud of you — Love you Pauline and Daryl

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s