#PressingforProgress This International Women’s Day

By Claire Chauvel
Social Connectedness Fellow 2017

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” – Maya Angelou

2017 sparked dialogue. We should all — women and men alike — be proud of advancements made towards gender equality. Trailblazers aroused emotions, rallies and actions garnered momentum, and, globally, women felt more united than ever. From #MeToo, to the release of Wonder Woman, to the launch of Bumble Bizz and Peanut, to the Silence Breakers, or the TIME Person of the Year 2017, women fought for justice and connection. Together, we must continue to #PressforProgress, as the road towards equality remains long and turbulent. In the words of Indian actress Priyanka Chopra, “My dad always said, ‘Don’t fit into the glass slipper like Cinderella did, shatter the glass ceiling.’”

If 2017 was the year of voice, 2018 must be the year of concrete action and greater scope. In North America and the United Kingdom, 2018 marks 100 years since most women were given the right to vote. Aptly dubbed “The Year of the Woman,” this year started with a bang. Across the globe, women rallied for the second global Women’s March.

While there was frustration, more importantly there was hope. The #MeToo movement galvanized Hollywood to found the Time’s Up Now legal defense fund dedicated to supporting those who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, or abuse in the workplace. The Canadian and Swedish governments have both adopted a “feminist foreign policy” with regards to foreign aid. And in January 2018, Iceland became the first country in the world to require companies to prove they are enforcing equal pay.

Men are also increasingly becoming active participants and advocates, with organizations like A CALL TO MEN gaining momentum. A CALL TO MEN is for men, by men, to enhance education about respectful, healthy manhood. Co-founder Ted Bunch hopes that “men will start to understand that they are the solution.”

Furthermore, in 2018, bookstore shelves will be stocked with inspiring new publications like In Praise of Difficult Women by Karen Karbo and Don’t Call Me a Princess by Peggy Orenstein. In North America, a record number of women are running for public office. Meanwhile, talented women like filmmaker Kim O’Bomsawin are bringing pressing issues to the fore. Her 2018 documentary Ce silence qui tue examines the national crisis and mystery of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. Elsewhere, scores of forums and organizations are empowering communities through seminars, book clubs, political and legal action, networking, and classes — notably, TEDxMontrealWomen, Ladies Learning Code, National Voice of Indigenous Women in Canada, Equal Voice, Happy Healthy Women, and Bad Girls Collective. It is our responsibility to make sure that from these initiatives, ideas and action sprout. After all, the women’s movement is all about shared responsibility and collective action, so we all need to get involved and be a part of this incredible force for change.

However, many battles still lie ahead. According to a 2017 McKinsey study, at current rates, gender gaps could take 30 to 180 years to close. The World Economic Forum estimates this number to be 100 years, marking the first time the gap has widened since the WEF began tracking inequality in 2006. In some countries, more than half of girls are not studying, and globally 31 million girls are out of school (see: UNESCO). Meanwhile, the Canadian Women’s Foundation notes that 43% of Canadian women have been sexually harassed in the workplace. Further, the foundation notes that women with disabilities, Indigenous women, single women, and women who are unemployed, are all at a heightened risk of sexual assault.

Gender equality, however, isn’t just a human rights matter; in fact, advancing equality for women would also spur economic growth. According to another 2017 McKinsey study, “Canada could add $150 billion in incremental GDP in 2026 or see a 0.6 percent increase of annual GDP growth. That’s 6 percent higher than business-as-usual GDP growth forecasts over the next decade.” Internationally, women’s equality could add $12 trillion to global growth.

McKinsey has outlined five best-practices to drive progress in the workplace, and by extension, community:

  1. Go beyond a vocal commitment to diversity by cascading a clear business case for change.
  2. Set targets, track performance, share results, and hold leaders accountable.
  3. Create formal sponsorship programs to help promote women.
  4. Make flexibility compatible with promotion.
  5. Raise awareness of, and combat, unconscious bias to create a truly inclusive environment.

Today and every day, let’s celebrate the courageous women who have spoken out and made a difference. I think of Kenojuak Ashevak (1927-2013), an Inuit artist who inspired and mentored future generations; Mary Shadd Cary (1823-1893), the first black female newspaper editor in North America; Viola Desmond (1914-1965), who challenged segregation practices in Nova Scotia long before the modern civil rights movement; Mary Two-Axe Earley (1911-1996), who challenged laws discriminating First Nations women; Adelaide Hoodless (1857-1910), an educational reformer who founded the Women’s Institute; and Agnes MacPhail (1890-1954), the first Canadian woman to be elected to the House of Commons.

But there are so many more. Think of the many strong, courageous women (and men) in every individual’s life. Think of your heroes, those who spearheaded the women’s movement. Think of the power of a single voice, a single helping hand. Think of what equality means to you. In 2018, let’s work together to advance women’s empowerment, push new boundaries, shatter glass ceilings, and #PressforProgress.

To continue the conversation, we invite those in Montreal to join us March 13th at 12:30 PM for the event, Inclusion and Solidarity: Advancing Women’s Rights Together featuring a panel of inspiring speakers. Click the link to learn more and register!