In a world where women are community leaders, change-makers, and educators, why is International Women’s Day (IWD) still needed?
The global theme for IWD this year is #ChooseToChallenge. I encourage you to challenge yourself, dear reader, to familiarize yourself with and to recognize the incredible contribution women have made and continue to make to society.
But, most of all, I challenge you to think about and act upon the change that is still required if we are to achieve equity.
A century of change
International Women’s Day has been observed and celebrated since the early 1900s.
In its origins, women mobilized on Women’s Day to air concerns of inequality, fighting for voting rights and better pay. International Women’s Day is and always has been inherently political, radical change being of the utmost priority.
In recent years, the goal of International Women’s Day has been twofold: To celebrate the progress that has been made concerning gender parity while continuing to take action against ongoing gendered oppression.
In celebrating the incredible accomplishments of both the women who came before us and the women around us, we must not forget the issues that women continue to face.
Many Newfoundland and Labrador women are affected harmed by gender-based violence and systemic sexism every day.
The ongoing, gruelling Snelgrove trial underscores how our criminal justice system clearly continues to harm sexual assault complainants.
“Community-based intervention is doing a lot of the heavy lifting.”
Survivors of sexual assault are often belittled and their stories not believed.
This is not okay.
COVID-19 is having a further negative impact on Newfoundland and Labrador women. Health policies that require quarantining and working from home make access to childcare increasingly difficult at this time. Women take on the bulk of this burden.
The pandemic has disproportionately harmed women, LGBTQ+ women and BIPOC women and communities working on the frontlines of health care.
Moreover, women frontline workers in the service industry continue to be overworked and underpaid, receiving non-livable wages.
Doing the work
Community-based intervention is doing a lot of the heavy lifting to combat the systemic injustices that many women in this province face.
Various local organizations work tirelessly to provide services by women, for women. The St. John’s Status of Women Centre provides free virtual counselling sessions for women to navigate the pandemic-related public health guidelines.
Virtual counselling provided by local organizations help to assist women to navigate the mental health challenges exacerbated by the pandemic, The Landing being one example that offers a queer-friendly, feminist approach to counselling.
In addition, local community members have responded to gender-based issues in the form of public protest.
In February 2017 women and allies gathered in protest of the Snelgrove case in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault to demand justice.
“We need participation and engagement at all levels for our society to become more equitable and just for everyone.”
In January 2018 women and allies participated in the St. John’s Women’s March to contribute to various co-ordinated marches for equality taking place across the world.
In May 2019 pro-choice activists rallied at the Confederation Building in St. John’s to advocate for reproductive rights.
While it is essential that more women occupy spaces of public leadership to tackle social change, we need participation and engagement at all levels for our society to become more equitable and just for everyone.
If creating signs and attending marches is not your cup of tea, alternative forms of engagement can contribute to the necessary waves of change that are still needed to make a difference in Newfoundland and Labrador.
For instance, craftivism is an alternative practice of activism in which art is used to convey a political statement. As a welcoming practice, crafting can be used to successfully create social change through creative, quiet activism.
As we think about International Women’s Day and its origins, we must do our part to acknowledge where we have been and to imagine where we are going.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, we must celebrate and honour the work that women – especially LGBTQ+ women and BIPOC women – continuously do, work that is regularly overlooked and underappreciated.
So, today, International Women’s Day, I choose to challenge you, dear reader, to appreciate the people around you who are working towards gender equity and to do your part.
Whether that means sharing relevant information on social media, educating the people around you or participating in quiet craftivism, be sure to create a tiny ripple of change in our community.