Fight for equality for women far from over

By Pat Watson Thursday March 08 2012 in Opinion
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Here is why we must uphold the march forward for equality for women: One hundred and fifty-eight Canadian soldiers died in combat in Afghanistan and that includes women soldiers, yet only two days before today’s International Women’s Day observations, that country’s president issued a statement that supports a ‘code of conduct” coming from conservative groups like the Taliban that states, “men are fundamental and women are secondary”. The code of conduct also reportedly sanctions wife beating.



Canadian soldiers gave their lives trying to create a climate where women could have lives of moral dignity in Afghanistan, but that is not about to happen.



Tellingly, the catalogue of atrocities visited upon women is not limited to the boundaries of Afghanistan, but is a worldwide phenomenon.



We exist in a world where some women head countries and others, by law, cannot walk outdoors without being accompanied by a male, even if the female is an adult and the male is only a six-year-old boy. This tension exists because coercive patriarchal constructs still aggregate to disempower or infantilize women. Hence the more particularly named United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.



Here in Canada, the wage gap between men and women continues to make this country one of the worse among member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. On average, a man in Canada earns over 20 per cent more than his female colleague. So ‘equal pay for equal work’ is not a slogan that can yet be filed away. However, in Ontario, Premier Dalton McGuinty’s program of full-day kindergarten will go some way to allowing for equity in female access to employment. But female representation in government still has some distance to go to mirror the population.



Of the more than 190 countries in the world, 19 currently have women as heads of state. Given its population and regional size, the Caribbean has a respectable record of electing women to high political office. Currently, Jamaica’s prime minister is Portia Simpson-Miller, now in her second term in office, and the head of the Trinidad and Tobago government is Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. In St. Lucia, the governor general is Dame Pearlette Louisy and in Antigua, the GG is Dame Louise Lake-Tack.



The formidable Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica, who was prime minister for 15 years, led the way among elected Caribbean female leaders. Former Barbados governor general, Dame Nita Barrow, should also be remembered.



Will we ever have a world where vast masses of persons will no longer be condemned because of their gender? Or for that matter, disadvantaged because of the colour of the skin in which they were born? If an element as mammoth as the world’s climate can change, surely there is hope.



By the way, there is no need for men to feel overlooked. International Men’s Day takes place November 19 with the aim being “to improve gender relations and promote unity”.



A note on municipal machinations…

In the latest installment of the serial drama here dubbed ‘As the Transit Wheel Turns’, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) voted in a new Board as of Tuesday after dissolving the previous one on Monday. Nice. This move, which effectively ousted the councilors who had dismissed, without cause, Gary Webster as TTC general manager, appears to be an attempt led by TTC Board Chair Karen Stintz and other members of Toronto City Council try to regain some measure of balance after the upheaval caused by Mayor Rob Ford’s attempt to bring in a plan for subway lines and to cancel the fully funded Transit City plan to construct Light Rapid Transit (LRT) lines to the northern reaches of the city.



All of this conflicting dialogue tells us that in a complex society the messy process of democracy is at work. Divergent visions of what our city should look like and how it should function get thrown together until one plan emerges to go forward.



Meanwhile, those of us who depend on public transit as a lifeline in this city continue to use the system as it is, while wondering if we will live to see the day when our subway system – which has been described as “efficient but skeletal” – will ever meet world-class standards.

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