Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/3/2016 (2095 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There are those who will tell you feminism has outlived its usefulness. They will say feminists accomplished all they set out to in 1910, when International Women’s Day was conceived by delegates to the Second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen.
After all, women in Canada are no longer confined to work in dingy sweatshops where they are ogled by managers and paid a pittance.
And look, we have female astronauts, premiers, Supreme Court judges — what more do women want?
Surely the fact Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet is made up of 50 per cent women is proof women have equality and discrimination is a thing of the past.
It’s a nice story, but the myth of women’s equality doesn’t hold up. A quick scan of equality indicators confirms, 106 years after Copenhagen, women are not even close to equality, even though young women are being told feminism isn’t relevant to their lives.
How can feminism be irrelevant when women in Canada earn approximately 75 per cent of men’s earnings?
International Women’s Day aimed to improve women’s working conditions through collective action.
The danger of those conditions was underscored in 1911 at a blaze at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York.
The fire killed 146 workers, mostly Jewish and Italian female immigrants, who had been locked in the building.
Many jumped to their deaths, engulfed in billowing flames as they fell.
One-hundred years later, improved labour laws and unionization have bettered the lives of garment workers in North America, but the same can’t be said for those who make our clothing today.
Three years ago, the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh, killing 1,120 garment workers trapped inside. Most were women and children and the tragedy bore an eerie similarity to the New York fire in 1911. Doors had been locked to keep workers from leaving.
Sweatshops are not a thing of the past and as long as we buy clothing made in Bangladesh, China and other countries where near-slavery conditions exist, we have failed to live up to the spirit of International Women’s Day.
In Canada, the work environments for many women in jobs formerly reserved for men are horrendous. Women in the RCMP and the military have been sexually harassed, even raped, with impunity.
Allowing women into non-traditional occupations is no victory as long as sexual violence in the workplace is ignored and perpetrators remain unpunished.
The creators of International Women’s Day also sought legal equality and on that front, we’re not even close. Feminists spent a century badgering lawmakers to yank patriarchal privilege out of laws and practices intended to keep women subordinate, but equality under the law, and equal benefit of the law remain works in progress.
Women’s anger spawned a royal commission 48 years ago to clean up discriminatory laws and practices, but not all of the commission’s work was completed. Notably, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women recommended ending discrimination against women under the Indian Act, but such discrimination persists today.
In fact, that discrimination, as well as the circumstances that have led to the disappearance and death of more than 1,200 indigenous women, will be driving feminism’s next equality fight.
Indigenous women face rates of sexual violence and murder that are more than four times higher than those faced by non-indigenous women. Canada’s colonial laws and its legacies have disempowered them and much change is needed before they enjoy equality as women and as indigenous peoples.
Now that former prime minister Stephen Harper’s anti-feminist dark age is over, the spirit of International Women’s Day will rise again.
Trudeau’s sunny ways have feminists feeling optimistic, but the next feminist revolution is just getting started.
Instead of declaring feminism passé, we should take the lead of Trudeau, who, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, encouraged everyone to call themselves a feminist.
Penni Mitchell is the editor of Herizons magazine and the author of About Canada: Women’s Rights.