International Women’s Day celebrates the achievements of women. The 2021 theme "choose to challenge" is apt for the times - because change comes from challenge.
The women we celebrate have challenged systems, asked questions, and fought for justice and equality. Our stories inspire us to continue our paths toward equality. We must continue to amplify the voices of women and share their stories.
I look at the three generations of women in my own family and realize how different our experiences have been in Canada in the span of 40 years.
I think about my mother’s experience of being an Asian woman, a newcomer to Canada, pregnant with me and in a newly arranged marriage. She arrived in Portage la Prairie in the early 1980s. I think about the courage it must have took to flee from her abusive husband when I was four months old. Moving to Winnipeg, we lived on welfare. Knowing no one, she began a new life. She had to navigate a system in a foreign language. Her first job in Canada was at a sewing factory. When I was in pre-school, she started her own business, working as a seamstress out of our home. We would drive to women’s clothing stores throughout the city - meeting clients to make alternations.
I remember her always saying, "I just need one week to alter and will bring back the next week."
On these trips we would bring home giant loads of clothing and my mom would work day and night to get through the massive pile. Overworked and not sleeping, she eventually began working directly with clients out of our home. Growing up in the ’90s, I was told over and over that my mom was one of the best seamstresses in the entire city. I am so proud of her.
I think about my daughter, Summer. Eight years old, she lives in a world where she can openly share her opinions and is encouraged to use her voice. She doesn’t know of the world before the #MeToo movement. Girls put up their hands in her classroom. As an Asian girl, she sees herself represented in her books, movies, dolls and television shows. She visits a doctor who looks like her and she has seen her mom speak in front of large crowds. She sees herself in this world.
I think about myself, a bridge between these two generations. In the ’80s, I didn’t see Asian girls in books, TV shows or magazines. I was one of four Asian students in my entire high school. I was always considered an outsider because of the colour of my skin. Thinking back to my mom driving around the city with piles of clothes in the car, I knew I could earn my space for myself in this world.
As a BIPOC woman politician, I see the future I’m building for my daughter and all the other BIPOC women who work so hard with so little. I thank my mom and the generations of women before me, so that today, in 2021, the daughter of a newcomer has a seat at the table to represent and advocate for equality in our policies for the city we build.
My experience informs me that I must continue to fight for the inclusion of social services in our policies, advocating for better outcomes for BIPOC women, working moms, and for little girls everywhere in this city to believe they can be anything they want to be.
My experience informs me that I must advocate for a city that raises the socio-economic outcomes for women and families in Winnipeg. Strong community supports build healthier neighbourhoods.
So, in keeping with the theme "choose to challenge," I choose to challenge our policies. How do we make inclusive decisions for the future of our city?
I choose to challenge the under-representation of BIPOC women in leadership roles. I choose to challenge income inequality and poverty in my community. I choose to challenge the ever-widening gap for women that the pandemic has created. I choose to challenge assumptions made about me because of the colour of my skin.
So, I ask you, what do you choose to challenge?
Point Douglas ward report
Vivian Santos is city councillor for Point Douglas.