Every year, March 8 is the date that most of the world celebrates International Women’s Day.
Though the United Nations stipulates member states can observe it any day of the year, March 8 is chosen in many countries, including Canada, since that was when IWD in its modern incarnation was first held in 1975.
The day has its roots in the early 20th century, when labour movements first began to advocate for equal rights, such as pay, for women as they began to join the work force in greater numbers. In 2014, the UN uses the occasion to “reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.”
To mark IWD in Canada, The Globe and Mail asked some of the country’s most successful – and inspiring – women in politics, business and culture how they would celebrate what is still seen internationally as an important date to reflect on the rights of women in a world where that notion still varies wildly from state to state.
(All interviews have been edited and condensed.)
Dr. Roberta Bondar
Dr. Roberta Bondar is Canada’s first female astronaut.
“All of us need to look at women in countries outside the western world who continue to struggle for the basic human rights of respect, dignity and access to education. When women are educated, their contribution to the economic and social fabric of their countries will only get better. Each year the celebration of International Women’s Day should reset our thinking to help achieve equality for all women.”
Kirstine Stewart is the head of Twitter Canada.
“For IWD I'd like to see how far into 2014 we can go without judging another woman. Not judging her by her hair or her shoes; her choice of job or her choice of partner. Whether she works out of the home or inside the home. How she's raising her children, if she in fact even chooses to have children.
“I think as women are only too well aware of the double-standard we are held to – what I think we need to understand and appreciate is how much we unfortunately end up contributing to setting those standards.Whether it's self-doubt or insecurity, it’s unfair to project ideals or standards onto someone else. No one can fully know a woman's situation or why she has made the decisions she has in life.
“What I know for sure is that life as a woman can be tough. And we have an opportunity to come together as women and set an example of support. We are all trying to do our best in life, and sometimes the best place to start is with a little help from our friends.”
Sherry Cooper is a speaker, writer, adviser and former chief economist for Bank of Montreal.
“I feel very strongly about this as in many countries, International Women's Day is a national holiday, celebrated with parades and major events. A recognition of women role models and trailblazers in every field would spur girls on to do great things and break some of the barriers in the process. Prominent women could host an event for girls and young women to encourage a spirit of opportunity and success. As well, the promotion of diversity at the most senior levels is essential. We need to teach girls and young women to dream big and stretch their minds to believe they can achieve whatever it is that they dream.”
Lisa Raitt is the Transport Minister of Canada.
“The day should be marked by women celebrating women. From large gatherings to just small acts of kindness. It's the day we should stop, recognize our accomplishments and be good to each other.”
Vanessa Judelman is the president of Mosaic People Development.
“International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to celebrate and showcase women who are accomplishing extraordinary things. Woman of all ages need more access to female role models. By seeing other woman who are breaking the glass ceiling or creating their own successful businesses, we can then start to believe it is possible for ourselves. This is how change is nurtured.”
Sook-Yin Lee is a Canadian broadcaster, filmmaker, actress and the host of the CBC radio program Definitely Not the Opera (DNTO).
“I've come down with a cold, so on International Women's Day, I'll be pampering myself, something every woman should do. But how ought Canadians mark IWD? My first thought: Reach out to a woman you appreciate and tell her: Celebrate your besties. A reading list of dynamic women and what they're up to would be good. And a women’s day off work without having to pay for anything would be awesome, but then again, men would demand equality, a day off and free stuff, too, and we'd be in trouble.”
Sally Armstrong is a journalist and human-rights activist.
“What the research has shown us now is that the equality of women affects poverty, conflict, violence and the economy. You can’t beat that. Economists claim that the status of women and the economy are directly related: where one’s flourishing, so is the other. Where one’s in the ditch, so is the other. What we’ve learned this year, which I think is the most exciting news in the 25 years I’ve been covering women’s issues, is that women are the way forward. It’s not about women over men, or East over West, it’s about finding a way to solve the most intractable files we have.
“It’s time to celebrate, to punch your fist into the air and say we’re doing it, it’s our turn. And to be proud, especially in Canada. We’re not at the finish line for sure, but there are significant accomplishments that women have made. Tomorrow we should take a minute to celebrate that authorities in the rest of the world are identifying women as the way forward. The earth has shifted under the status of women and this means a lot to women and men all over the world.”
Kathleen Wynne is the Premier of Ontario. This excerpt is taken from a public speech Ms. Wynne gave in advance of International Women's Day.
“Just last year, I won the leadership of my party after engaging in a serious, thoughtful and spirited race in which the other top contender was the impressive and incomparable Sandra Pupatello. After taking office, I was able to see my friend and colleague Deb Matthews sworn in as my Deputy Premier. Across the aisle in the Legislature, one of the party leaders I debate with regularly is Andrea Horwath, the leader of the NDP. And across Canada, women are now leading our four largest provinces, which means we’re governing the vast majority of Canada’s population. That’s something we can all be proud of.
“For me, getting here wasn’t easy, nor was this the goal I set for myself in life. I never expected to one day lead a government. But, the thing that probably prepared me best for becoming a politician was being a mother. As a mother, you learn to multitask, to connect and to communicate. I have three kids and I can honestly say I wouldn’t be Premier today if it weren’t for them – they strengthened me and helped to form who I am. And what was happening at their school – and to publicly funded education – was what motivated me to start my journey to fight for a better future.
“I didn’t get involved in party politics until I was 50, and I’m so glad that I did. I hope that I and the other female political leaders are setting a good example for young women today. Because I think it’s important that we draw more women into the political process as voters, as candidates and as potential leaders. And that’s not just for the sake of tokenism or in the pursuit of some abstract goal. … It’s because of the impact we can make.
“Our relationship to the issues and our approach to overcoming challenges adds real value to the political process.”
Kellie Leitch is a surgeon and Minister of Status of Women of Canada.
“For me this is a day to think about the person who influenced and inspired me the most - my mother, Lynne Leitch. She was a strong, loving woman who encouraged me to work hard and be the best that I can be.
“…Women need mentors, women need champions to be successful. Whether that’s champions in a board room, champions in my case who are senior surgeons, champions in law firms to help you become a legal partner. I lived in a household where my mother was our champion.
“I think the way we mark these days is by celebrating the people who have aspired to those types of goals, and can be seen as mentors, those people who have been champions, and continuing to talk about – and I don’t know that we do enough of this – how Canadians should be proud, because we are a forward-looking country. Don’t get me wrong, we can all do better. There are definitely some differences … but when you reflect on Canada as a whole, Canadians have a lot to be proud of and we need to celebrate those successes.”