Skip to main content

international women's day

Here are 16 reasons to celebrate this International Women's Day

A demonstrator takes part in a march on International Women’s Day in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on March 8, 2017.

It's been a year of pain and progress for women's equality – a momentous time during which, behind the drumbeat of oft-disturbing news, real achievements and true leaps forward have moved the dial on gender parity.

On the painful side: #MeToo revelations have exposed the prevalence – and devastating impact – of sexual harassment in the workplace, while a misogynist continues to occupy the White House. Globally, it will take another 217 years to reach gender parity, the World Economic Forum estimates.

In Canada, women working full-time still earn, on average, 74 cents for every dollar a man makes, and this country's wage gap remains well above the average for Organization for Economic Development and Co-operation member countries. Every six days in Canada, a woman is killed by her intimate partner, while Indigenous women and girls are still disproportionately at risk of violence.

Then there are the accomplishments. Countries are introducing measures that will make life better for women and girls, such as women (finally) getting the right to drive in Saudi Arabia and Iceland becoming the first country to enforce equal pay.

A sea of firsts punctuated the last year: the first openly trans woman elected in the United States, the first Inuk heart surgeon in Canada, the first female mayor elected in Montreal's 375-year history and Serbia's first female – and openly gay – prime minister. To top it off, we have the first female Doctor Who.

It's little wonder that "feminism" was named Merriam-Webster's word of the year for 2017. Meaningful change is afoot. Here are 16 reasons to celebrate this International Women's Day, in Canada and across the world.

1. Running – Mexico

Mexican cattle farmer and part-time long-distance runner Maria Lorena Ramirez, 22, competes in the Cajamar Tenerife Bluetrail 2017, a 97-kilometre mountain race held over 23 hours, on June 10, 2017.

Maria Lorena Ramirez, a 22-year-old woman from the Tarahumara Indigenous community, wins a 50-kilometre ultramarathon in central Mexico, defeating 500 other runners from 12 countries. She had no professional gear and wore a skirt, scarf and rubber sandals.

2. Trail-blazing – Canada

Dr. Donna May Kimmaliardjuk is Canada’s first Inuk heart surgeon.

In Canada, Dr. Donna May Kimmaliardjuk becomes the first Inuk heart surgeon. "Dr. K.," a fourth-year resident at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, is from Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut, and grew up in Ottawa. "It's so important to see our own people reflected in these positions of leadership," she says.

3. Equal pay – Iceland

A woman works in the assembly department of Ossur, an international company that makes prosthetics, on Dec. 6, 2017 in Reykjavik. Ossur is among those companies recently certified by the Icelandic government as offering equal pay under a new gender-equality requirement.

Iceland becomes the first country in the world to legally enforce equal pay between men and women. The legislation, which took effect on Jan. 1, means any public or private employer with more than 25 workers has to prove it is paying equal wages for work of equal value or face daily fines. Iceland has topped the World Economic Forum's gender-parity ranking for the past nine years in a row.

4. Elections – United States

Then-Democratic nominee for the state legislature Danica Roem carries campaign signs as she greets voters while canvasing a neighbourhood in Manassas, Va., on June 21, 2017.

Danica Roem becomes the first openly trans person elected to a state legislature in the United States, one of many historic wins for minority and LGBTQ candidates. Charlotte, N.C., gets its first female African-American mayor, Seattle its first lesbian mayor, while New Orleans elects its first female mayor.

5. Driving – Saudi Arabia

Friends in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, celebrate on Sept. 27, 2017, after news that a ban on women driverswill be lifted next year.

At last, a royal decree in Saudi Arabia allows women to drive. The ban had become a global symbol of oppression, and Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world where women could not get behind the wheel. The move comes after years of protests against the ban, epitomized by the Women2Drive movement.

6. #MeToo and #TimesUp

Caitlyn MacGregor attends the second annual Women’s March in Cambridge, Mass., on Jan. 20, 2018.

From one tweet and a string of groundbreaking investigative reports on film mogul Harvey Weinstein to a global movement: By late October, #MeToo had brought together 1.7 million voices from 85 countries, highlighting the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace and the steps required to stop it.

7. Women, mobilizing

Maelona Williams, 1, attends a Women’s March with her father in Vancouver on Jan. 20, 2018.

The first Women's March was the largest demonstration in U.S. history, a response to President Donald Trump's divisive policies that spurred a movement for inclusion and women's rights. The second march, in January, saw a massive turnout, too: more than a million people from across the United States and Canada, as well as from Italy, Nigeria and Iraq. "Last year, I just felt kind of angry," marcher Ann Dee Allen told The New York Times. "This year, I feel like I'm in it for the long haul."

8. Marriage – Australia

Demonstrators taking part in a same-sex marriage rally in Sydney, on Sept. 10, 2017.

Australia's Parliament votes overwhelmingly to legalize same-sex marriage after years of debate. "This belongs to us all," said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a long-time advocate for marriage equality. "This is Australia – fair , diverse, loving and filled with respect for every one of us. This is a great day."

9. Changing laws

An activist celebrates in Beirut on Aug. 17, 2017, after the abolition of Article 522 in the Lebanese code, which shields rapists from prosecution on the condition that they marry their victims.

Lebanon, Tunisia and Jordan repeal archaic laws that had allowed rapists to avoid criminal prosecution by marrying their victims. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights welcomed the moves, saying: "There is no place in today's world for such hideous laws." Elsewhere, India's Supreme Court bans instant divorces and Kyrgyzstan bolsters its domestic-violence law.

10. Box-office oomph

Gal Gadot stars in Wonder Woman, the highest-grossing superhero origin film of all time.

Wonder Woman becomes the highest-grossing superhero origin film of all time, while Girls Trip becomes the first film produced, directed, written by and starring African Americans to earn more than US$100-million. The first female cinematographer is nominated for an Oscar – and Canada's own Samantha Bee kicks ass on U.S. late-night TV.

11. Oprah's speech

Oprah Winfrey accepts the Cecil B. DeMille Award during the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 7, 2018.

Oprah Winfrey wins a lifetime-achievement award, and delivers an electric nine-minute speech at the Golden Globes that touches on gender, race, power and hope. "I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon," she said.

12. The power of music

Nineteen year-old Negina Khpalwak, the first female orchestra conductor in Afghanistan, conducts her musicians during a rehearsal at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in Kabul on Jan. 8, 2018.

Afghanistan's first all-female orchestra performs in Europe. The 30 young women who are members of Zohra have faced death threats and intimidation at home, where until recently music was illegal and women were forbidden from attending public gatherings. Still, they play on. "Music is something beautiful," one conductor told Reuters. "I should be proud to be a musician."

13. More CEOs (sort of)

Geisha Williams, president and chief executive officer of PG&E, speaks during Fortune Magazine’s Most Powerful Women conference in Washington on Oct. 10, 2017.

Last year saw a record number of female chief executives atop Fortune 500 companies. Fortune's list is the first to include a Latina CEO (Geisha Williams, of PG&E). Still, there are just two women of colour on the list and no black women. In Canada, of the top 100 CEOs at the largest publicly traded firms, just six are women, according to Rosenzweig & Co.

Anne Waiguru is the governor of Kirinyaga County in Kenya. Facebook

14. Taking office

For the first time in Kenya's history, three women were elected as senators and three as governors. Worldwide, Rwanda has the highest share of women in parliament, where they comprise 61 per cent of seats in the lower house, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union's database.

15. Montreal elects first female mayor

Valérie Plante speaks to supporters after being elected mayor of Montreal on Nov. 5, 2017.

Montreal elects its first female mayor in the city's 375-year history. Valérie Plante kicked off her campaign with a cheeky slogan declaring she was "the right man for the job." "We have written a new page in the history books of Montreal," she said at her victory party.

16. A new Doctor Who

Jodie Whittaker, the first female Doctor Who, with a portrait of her character in London on Aug. 13, 2017.

Jodie Whittaker becomes the first female Doctor Who, another first in the 54-year history of the TV series. In other regional firsts: Serbia gets its first female prime minister, Scotland Yard has the first female police commissioner in its 188-year history and a woman leads the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace – a Canadian soldier named Megan Couto, no less.