Having had the privilege of addressing a great group of Sisters in Newfoundland on March 7 on the subject of “Inspiring Change,” I still feel pumped: all that positive energy the day before International Women’s Day recharged my batteries.
It’s just as well that we have so much energy to tap, though. We’ll need it for the work ahead of us.
Remember that silly slogan from a few years back (from a cigarette ad encouraging women to smoke), “You’ve come a long way, baby”? Not nearly long enough. In fact it sometimes seems we’re headed backwards—or in a direction where things are growing even worse than they were in the bad old days.
At the University of Ottawa, the men’s hockey team is under suspension after a suspected sexual assault, and a vile exchange on Facebook about the student council president, Anne-Marie Roy, has become the talk of the town. This isn’t the locker-room talk of decades ago, but a violent and hateful conversation that has rightly been called an example of “rape culture.”
Then there are our Aboriginal sisters, hundreds of whom have been murdered or have gone missing in the past few years. The Harper government’s response has been to obstruct justice for these women almost every step of the way—shutting down Sisters In Spirit, which had assembled a comprehensive data-base, and resisting all calls for a national inquiry into these deaths and disappearances, to this very day. A new report from a Parliamentary committee is just more of the same do-nothingism. Yes, says the Conservative majority on the Special Committee on Violence against Indigenous Women, there is a problem (Aboriginal women and girls suffer far more violence than Canadian women as a whole). But no new initiatives to address the problem will be supported.
Not good enough. Not by a long shot.
But the attitude of our government towards women in general has been…remarkable. Harper scrapped early learning and childcare federal-provincial agreements within moments of coming to office in 2006. His government effectively abolished pay equity in the Public Service in 2009, even making it illegal for a union to help any individual member wanting to make a pay equity complaint. A year later, it loosened equity requirements for federal contractors, affecting hundreds of thousands of workers.
Women are also impacted by every anti-union move the government makes. Unions have been a source of strength and advancement for women in all sectors, successfully negotiating employment equity, pay equity, workplace child care, improved maternity and parental benefits, and non-discriminatory, harassment-free workplaces. Passing legislation to weaken unions, which the government has already done and is continuing to do, means putting all of these gains up for grabs.
So women still have an uphill battle, in our workplaces and in society. But we’ve won seemingly impossible struggles before—the right to vote, reproductive freedom, equality under the law. “We’re the women of the Union and we’ve just begun to fight,” we started singing a few years back. Well, we’re still fighting, harder than ever—and more and more Brothers are right there with us. When it comes to inequality and discrimination, we are ALL affected. And together we’ll win this uphill battle too.