Celebrated on March 8 in countries around the world, International Women’s Day wears many hats: it’s a push for gender equality and pay equity, a protest against sexism, violence against women and online/workplace harassment and it's a celebration recognizing women's political, economic and social achievements.
International Women’s Day hasn’t always been political, sometimes celebrated like a cross between Mother's Day and Valentine’s Day. But it began in 1910 as a more visible way to demand rights and freedoms for women. In 2017 it’s set to return to its roots, with events and marches becoming more popular, political and vocal thanks to recent events in the US as well as the erosion or stonewalling of women’s rights in Russia, Poland, India, UK, USA and around the world.
While most in the west today were born into freedoms only dreamed of by our great-great-grandmothers (we can go to school, vote, run for office and own property) it wasn’t always this way. The modern struggle for equal rights for women started 225 years ago when Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792. It would take a century before New Zealand granted women the right to vote and hold office. Canada, the US and several European nations wouldn’t follow until the end of WWI. Universal suffrage was finally achieved in the UK in 1928, France in 1944 and Switzerland in 1971.
These gains were hard-won by white women through years of political protest, education and outreach as well as a result of societal changes forced by two world wars. It would be decades more before women of color and First Nations women were granted the same freedoms. And even today, these rights aren’t the norm for women around the world.
As we focus on how far women have come, there's a new wave of feminism clamoring for a day of protest and a general strike on March 8. A movement which not only demands gender parity but a social safety net, environmental justice, reproductive rights and labor rights for all, plus an end to gender violence, homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia. It’s an inclusive form of feminism, recognizing that women’s rights are human rights. It's not women versus men (and never has been), but women and their allies fighting a broken and outdated system.
It’s clear that even in the west the fight for gender equality isn’t over. Pay equity in Canada and the US won't be achieved for another 170 years. Sexism and harassment are still problems, with shocking reports of women harassed online (Gamergate) and workplace harassment (Uber) still making headlines.
The images we’ve chosen to highlight are not unusual and that’s the point. We’re showcasing women contributing as they always have, as daughters, sisters, students, mothers, caregivers, teachers, nurses, farmers, police officers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, grandmothers, healers and leaders. In 2017, it shouldn’t seem radical at all to have girls and women in all these roles.
So now and more than ever before, even as we celebrate, International Women’s Day has another hat to wear, as a poignant reminder that the world has changed and we can’t go back, but instead must continue to strive forward towards equality for all.