Monday, March 8, 2010

International Women's Day. . . . Lots of work still to be done.

So one more International Women's Day has come and looking at my five year old daughter and the future that she faces I realize that we all have a lot of work to do. When you look around the world women continue to be second-class citizens (both de facto and de jure) in many countries. Women continue to lack political rights, they lack inheritance rights, as a group women suffer much greater rates of poverty, and violence against women continues to be a terrible stain on our entire race. 

But the problem is not just some abstract 'third-world' issue, it is a vital issue here in our own country. Women in Canada are woefully underrepresented in our political system and in the power centers of power in general. Just because we have a female Chief Justice of our Supreme Court doesn't mean that there is not a lot to be done to guarantee women an equal place in our society. Even Pakistan has a greater percentage of women in their nation legislature than we do. And the present Government has gone to great lengths to undermine the ability of women to find equality, including cutting funding to many women's groups and undermining the struggle for pay-equity. 

But we certainly can not only blame the present government for the difficulty of the on-going struggle for equality. Unfortunately many people in this country believe, or at least claim, that total gender equality already exists in this country. These people continue resist any serious effort to bring more women into political and social organizations, or they restrict such efforts to platitudes such as simple statements of equality which they imagine will somehow magically overcome generations of oppression and lack of access. Unfortunately, among this group are many women who claim that any kinds of affirmative action processes are an insult to women or to their own achievements. This is an simplistic approach which overlooks the social and historical role played in the marginalization of any social group. For generations women have had less access to education and administrative roles at all levels of society. But more than this women have been socially conditioned away from certain pursuits and vocations. Of course, there will be women who have and will continue to overcome the social barriers to full participation. But for a woman to raise to a high position in, say, politics she is often required to be even more pushy and ambitious than her male peers and she must conform to a male dominated and male-created culture which women have had very little part in forming. The only way to change this kind of cultural barrier is to find processes that bring a much wider group of women into processes such as politics. 

This is why the struggle for women's equality touches all of us. Because not only is it in all of our favor to push our culture to greater equality where women our concerned, but for all people. The struggle for democracy is in large part the struggle to bring marginalized and vulnerable people into the political processes as well as all aspects of our society. People with physical and mental challenges, people of color, women; all people who have socially conditioned struggles, as well as personal ones, to overcome must play an ever greater role in our society if democracy is to be meaningful and if our society and its members are to achieve all that can be achieved. 

As a man I believe that one of my responsibilities in the struggle for equality is to encourage the women in my life to believe in themselves and to pursue their dreams no matter what. It also means that I consciously try to step back at times in my life to make sure that I don't use my socially conditioned male aggression to speak over women or anyone else in a marginalized position. And it is time that many other men did the same. In many organizations men too willing come to the fore to occupy leadership roles, in many cases in organizations which represent larger numbers of women than men. Stepping back to let others take a larger leadership role is not condescending, rather it means finally facing up to the fact that the opinions of middle-class white men is over represented in our society and that there are other important experiences and opinions that can enrich our society. 

Happy international Women's day to all. 

No comments: