To the editor:
International Women’s Day 2020 will be marked in Canada on Sunday, March 8. There are several events in Vernon designed to celebrate, educate or raise funds for women’s organizations.
The idea of a day to promote women’s issues originated with the Socialist movement in the early 20th Century in New York. In 1910, the International Socialist Women’s Conference approved a proposal to designate March 8 as a day to honour working women and to promote equal rights and female suffrage.
In 1917, the USSR instituted female suffrage and March 8 became a national holiday there. But, until the feminist movement formed in the 1960s, International Working Women’s Day, also known as International Women’s Day (IWD), was observed mainly in socialist or communist countries. In 1967, the feminist movement adopted IWD and with the adoption of IWD by the UN in 1975, observance has grown to cover the majority of countries. Response to IWD varies from being declared a holiday to being ignored, and may be observed with protests against ongoing gender imparity or celebrations of the achievements of notable women.
Even after a century of action to improve the equality of women and men in the workplace and at home, there are still many areas where women face challenges to advancement, equal pay for work and household help. Women are still treated as inferior to men, as shown in the great need for shelters for those suffering from sexual violence and poverty, in both advanced and impoverished countries.
Often, the events focus on women who have made remarkable achievements in their fields of endeavour. But what about the ordinary women? The woman who may or may not work outside the home, who volunteers her time at her children’s school or helping neighbours. The woman who has a minimum wage or low-paying job and spends the day on her feet, or at a boring, repetitive task. Who comes home from work and cooks for her family, cleans the house, takes care of the children with little help.
While some women achieve their goals of being a CEO, an Olympic athlete or a prime minister, the majority of women do not enjoy the privileges of the elite. What can we do to assist the ordinary woman in her everyday life and how can we celebrate and encourage her?
Women are often the nurturers in society and do their work from day to day. However, studies show that an overload of outside work and household chores can lead to mental illness, poor productivity and lower salaries. To counter those negative effects, men can step in to take on their fair share of the household work and childcare; more and more men do just that, but there is still room for improvement to reach gender parity in the home.
In the workplace, although there has been improvement, there is room for improvement in the status of women compared to the status of men. Statistics Canada reports, in its publication, The gender wage gap in Canada: 1998 to 2019, the women’s wages in 2018 were 13.3 per cent lower than men’s. That figure represents a 5.5 per cent decrease in the gender pay gap from 1998. The decrease was attributed to “changes in the distribution of men and women across occupations; women’s increased educational attainment; and the decline in the share of men in unionized employment,” and not to efforts on the part of employers to equalize women’s status to men’s.
In the area of management, women have fared better in the public sector that in the private sector. In 2015, the last year for which statistics are available, women made up 54 per cent of positions as legislators, government managers and other officials. However, in the private sector they accounted for only 25.6 per cent of senior managers. As of 2018, only 3.3 per cent of companies listed on the TSX had a female CEO, and only 15.8 per cent of executive officers were women. Much of the difference between the public and private sector may be due to employment equity policies for public workers in seven Canadian provinces. The present federal government cabinet has an equal number of women and men as part of its promise of gender parity.
According to the Reykjavik Index for Leadership, only 62 per cent of Canadians would feel comfortable having a woman head a major company in Canada. There is evidence that disputes this reaction. A Morgan Stanley study concluded that, “more gender diversity, particularly in corporate settings, can translate to increased productivity and greater innovation, better decision-making and higher employee retention and satisfaction.”
Before there is improvement, attitudes toward women having power must change in order to achieve the benefits listed above.
To build a fairer world at home, in the workplace and in society as a whole, men and women both need to work toward that goal. In the household, men should share chores and childcare equally with their partners. Everyone should watch for signs of violence, whether physical, verbal or psychological and report it. When chauvinistic or racist comments are made, make the speaker aware of how their ridicule, or humiliating and demeaning comments are hurtful. In elections, vote for women. Support mothers and parents by advocating for maternity and paternity leaves. Perhaps most important, be aware of your own biases and pre-existing stereotypes and assumptions and listen when someone points them out; then act to correct them.
In the workplace, employers and supervisors should have a fair hiring procedure. Value and encourage diversity in the workforce and hire a variety of employees. If a man and a woman are both qualified, hire the woman. Provide, or fight for, equal wages for equal work and support initiatives that promote equal pay. Support women by working toward providing a safe environment and a reporting method for discriminatory, harassing, racist acts. Volunteer for an investigative committee. Provide and participate in comprehensive equality and sensitivity training. Educate yourself about the barriers for girls and women in your workplace and in social contexts and work to eliminate them. See your female co-workers as part of your team, not as competition or less valuable. Listen to women’s ideas and don’t dismiss them as inferior. Help women advance by providing training and opportunities for learning experiences. Provide constructive feedback and respectful suggestions for improvement.
As a whole society, women and men can support women and girls through mentoring, as well as encouraging them to set high, but realistic goals and helping them to find the means to achieve them. Take your daughters to hear women who have inspirational stories to share and expose them to a variety of experiences so they learn their strengths. Support shelters and organizations that provide care and counselling for victims of sexual violence and other forms of abuse. Volunteer for organizations that help women and children to escape poverty. Spend time with the girls and women in your life and celebrate their achievements, big and small — not all of us are superwomen!
As you can see from the suggestions above, there are so many actions we can take to improve gender equity in the home, workplace and society. We don’t need individually do them all, but we can start with one action.
Singly, we can’t change the world. But together, we can do anything.
Bev Weidman, secretary of Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) Vernon