Sunday, March 8 is International Women's Day, a time to celebrate the achievements and contributions of women and to also raise awareness of the challenges that still remain in achieving true gender equality.
According to the official International Women's Day website (internationalwomensday.com), the day is aimed at “celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women's equality.”
I have heard some suggest that women have already achieved equality with men, and that can be an easy misconception to adopt coming from a privileged existence in a place like Canada, where women have by and large (though not completely) achieved equality with men, but a quick look around the world tells us that in many places women are treated as far less than equals.
Even in modern societies, as we find in North America, though on the surface it may appear that women have achieved full equality, but the recent MeToo movement shone a glaring light on the reality that still exists today for many women who endure sexual harassment both in the workplace and outside of it. We can pat ourselves on the back for being largely enlightened, and having supported equality for women, but we still have a long way to go.
The first International Women's Day was observed in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. More than one million women and men showed their support by participating in public events. It wasn't until 1975 that the United Nations recognized 'International Women's Year' before annually celebrating International Women's Day on March 8.
Today, International Women's Day is celebrated around the world, and it has grown to become a global day of celebration of women.
While International Women's Day is a great vehicle for highlighting the issues still facing women, it is also a time to celebrate the contributions that women make to society, and they are many.
In Meaford, for example, each year we feature a local businesswoman as we recognize International Women's Day, and our challenge is not finding women who own businesses in this town, but rather sifting through the many (and I mean many) candidates.
A simple walk through our downtown shopping area provides a showcase of strong, determined women running a range of businesses, heck, even this newspaper is co-owned by a woman, our publisher Susanne Wussow.
Local businesses aside, Meaford voters clearly have no issues with electing women, given that currently both our mayor and deputy mayor are women (and our deputy mayor owns a local business to boot).
I sometimes wonder how differently history might have played out had women always been regarded as equal to men. How many wars might have been avoided? How differently might our society have been shaped had women always had an equal input, had women always been an equal part of the decision making process?
I suspect that had women been equal all along, we might see a kinder, more compassionate society today. There is no question that when it comes to compassion and empathy, women typically outshine we men.
Personally, though I am clearly a white man in a world dominated by white male privilege, I have little patience for discrimination or inequality. Nothing ruffles my feathers more than seeing people discriminated against simply because of their gender, religion, or colour of their skin, and movements like International Women's Day hold a lot of value for me, as I don't think we can ever have too much awareness when it comes to discrimination.
Two years ago after publishing an editorial focused on International Women's Day, I received an email from a reader, a woman, who asked me who I thought I was, as a man, writing about women's issues, as if it should only be women who are permitted to offer thoughts on the day. I understand where such sentiment comes from – who the heck am I to think I can appreciate women's issues? That question comes from a place of hurt, and possibly from experiencing horrible treatment from men who believe that they are superior to women, and while I would disagree, and I think it is perfectly appropriate for a man to reflect on women's issues, I would never pretend to fully understand what women endure in their daily lives – but I can, even as a man, appreciate the struggle, and I can support the ongoing fight for full equality.
So while we observe International Women's Day, and we celebrate the achievements and contributions by women in our own community, it wouldn't hurt to remember that there are still challenges ahead, even in our apparent haven with successful and dedicated women here in Meaford.
To all the fine women in our community and beyond, happy International Women's Day, and my hope is that a day will come when the struggle has ended, and we're all considered to be and are treated as equals, as it should be.