Sunday is International Women’s Day, a time to reflect on the decades-long struggle by women to obtain a voice, rights and justice equality.
International Women’s Day traces its roots to 1911, when a group of women gathered because they didn’t have a voice.
This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, which was drafted by delegates at the Fourth World Conference on Women held in China in 1995. The Beijing Declaration, which was adopted by the United Nations, stated: “Women’s empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society, including participation in the decision-making process and access to power, are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development and peace.”
International Women’s Day is a chance to celebrate the achievements obtained so far, but also to reflect on the challenges that remain. UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted in 2017 how women’s rights were being “reduced, restricted and reversed.” He called for the empowerment of women and encouraged them to speak up and take control of their own lives and the future of our world.
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas is proud of the union’s work in advancing women’s rights and is pleased with what women in OPSEU have achieved.
“I’m so proud at the number of women in our union who have stepped up and taken on leadership roles in OPSEU,” said Thomas. “For example, six out of seven of our Regional Vice-Presidents are women. Yes, there is lots more that must be done, but the future is bright.”
“We’re a member-driven union, and women and their allies guide and support OPSEU in all our efforts,” said OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida. “Women always have been, and always will remain, at the forefront of all our battles and victories.”
Almeida noted the many challenges that remain, such as the heavy loads women carry in addition to their work, oftentimes being primary caregivers to their families and aging parents.
Provincial Women’s Committee Chair Dianne Clarabut says International Women’s Day is being celebrated this year by paying homage to the women who have overcome racial and gender- based biases to achieve greatness in their chosen fields, or as some call, it “breaking the glass ceiling.”
“We applaud the tenacity of Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan who fought for education for girls. And we salute Sahle-Work Zewde, the first elected female President of Ethiopia and currently the only female out of the 54 presidents in Africa.”
Clarabut noted in Canada we can celebrate the achievements of women, such as Elsie Knott, the first woman in Canada to serve as chief of a First Nation, in 1952, advancing the voice of Indigenous women.
We also look to Angela James First, an openly gay athlete and second Black athlete to be inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame in 2010. And who can forget Jean Augustine shattering the racial divide and the glass ceiling by becoming the first Black woman to be elected to the Canadian House of Commons in 1993.
“We encourage everyone to take some time on International Women’s Day to think about everything women have achieved and consider the challenges they still face,” said Thomas. “Together, with allies, what was once impossible is now most probable.”