Labour Views: We will succeed when no one is held back

By Jack Bourassa 

A few days ago, we celebrated International Women’s Day in Canada and across the world. ‘Celebrated’ is a word often used to mean marking an event with joy. Many of us have mixed feelings of joy and frustration. Those emotions battle against each other within my heart and mind as I recognize the victories my sisters have achieved and the struggles they have gone through. I can’t deny my anger and frustration with having to deal with this on an annual basis. It’s 2021 and we still need to fight for women’s rights. It’s 2021 and our societies are still far from gender equality.  

I’m both angry and frustrated and know that many of you are sharing the same feelings. This won’t bring an end to the crisis. This won’t eliminate gender inequality. This won’t stop violence against women and girls. I took a deep breath and decided to channel my anger and frustration to solidarity actions that could help my sisters in the North, Canada and across the world.  

The first action, and the most important one, is to be an ally. This means listening to what women on the frontline battling against sexism have to tell us. This also is translated by refusing to be a bystander when witnessing discrimination, injustice or violence. 

Just like all recent events, International Women’s Day (IWD) was celebrated differently across the world. We all are impacted by the pandemic, to varying degrees. COVID-19 has not only changed the way IWD has been celebrated throughout history across the world but has put gender inequality on the spotlight. While it seems that the world stopped with the lockdown, the fight for women’s rights has never ceased to inspire our communities to be more resilient. This year’s UN Women theme is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” 

Women are frontline and healthcare workers, scientists, doctors and caregivers. They’re bravely putting themselves in harm’s way to battle the pandemic. Shockingly, they get paid 11 percent less globally than their male counterparts. There is a lot to be done to close the gap. Our governments have a national obligation, as well as international one through bodies such as United Nations, to end gender inequality. Individually, we must raise awareness and take it ‘personally.’ It might not be affecting you directly, but the fact that another person is being treated unfairly must be disturbing enough to take action. 

Caregivers are overwhelmingly women. This hasn’t changed due to the pandemic, but it has become more evident, especially when children stayed at home during the lockdown. In the past, I wrote about the burden of unpaid work that’s put on the shoulders of women. Women pour their physical and emotional energy into unpaid work that fills the gap in public services. In a report released by Statistics Canada, men and women aged 25 to 54 work roughly the same number of hours per day. However, the division of unpaid labour often leave women with the unfair burden. Working women spend around 4 hours per day on unpaid work. It’s important for men to recognize and appreciate that. Women’s generosity and passion to take care of loved ones and those around them must not be taken for granted. On an individual level, we all have the collective responsibility of changing the narrative. However, governments must fill in the gaps and invest in public services. In the labour movement, we have always been campaigning for Affordable Universal Childcare. This will take off some of the burden of caregiving from the shoulders of women (and men too). Action: call your Member of Parliament and/or sign a petition demanding Affordable Universal Childcare. 

The list of injustices faced by woman is long. Some are more painful than others. Because it’s a day to celebrate, I was not planning on mentioning the obvious and the most tragic: physical, emotional and sexual violence and harassment. Beyond words and emotions, our communities and nation need actions to stop what’s more dangerous than any pandemic. While it’s the role of governments to have legislative bodies to pass laws to protect its citizens from violence, it’s our role as individuals to never be bystanders. Action: be an ally. There are many local, national and global movements, campaigns and organizations that combat violence against women. For instance, the Moose Hide campaign is a movement that’s close to my heart. This campaign is a grassroots movement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous men and boys who are standing up against violence towards women and children. 

International Women’s Day is a time of celebration, action and solidarity. Let’s take the spirit of resiliency inspired by women and grassroots activists across the world. Let’s work together to ensure that our communities are safe and eradicate all forms of gender inequalities. We will all succeed when no one is held back or left behind.

“We cannot all succeed when the half of us are held back.” ~ Malala Yousafzai. 

This column appeared in the Yellowknifer on March 10, 2021.