Live Well, Do Good

Remember Lesson of History on International Women's Day

Brandon Sun, March 2, 2015 - David McConkey

As we approach International Women’s Day this Sunday, reading the news can be quite shocking. In various parts of the world, girls and women are being kidnapped, raped, enslaved, and killed. Other indignities are happening everywhere, often not reported. But every March 8, we are invited to remember not only the problems encountered, but also the gains made.

Next year is the centennial of women getting the vote in Manitoba, the first in Canada. Also important to remember is the “second wave” of feminism, which started during the Second World War. One huge step forward: an increase in awareness and action concerning violence against women, especially in the home.

The gains have been impressive. Think back to Canada, even as late as the 1960s: multiple barriers to women in the workplace, birth control illegal, much violence and sexual abuse of women (and children) unacknowledged, women’s shelters non-existent.

We should also remember that voting and other rights for women were created by pressure from grassroots movements. The stories of successful change need to be remembered and shared. We can recall the role played 100 years ago by women who grew up in Westman, like Nellie McClung and sisters Lillian Beynon Thomas and Francis Marion Beynon.

And we need to learn about the stories of today from around the globe. For one, the courageous Malala Yousafzai, children’s and women’s rights activist from Pakistan. Last year, at age 17, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

While we remember the gains that have been made, we must continue to push ourselves – in our own lives, in our relationships, and in our society – to do more. We still have a ways to go.

And we must remember that other societies and cultures have not yet accepted the equality of women as we have in Canada.

Think of Islam (1.6 billion followers), for example. Or Roman Catholicism (1.2 billion followers). We must challenge and encourage such religions to “catch up” and to recognize the equality of women.

Equality for women has several components. Perhaps most vital is equality within the family and home, both for girls growing up and for women as adults. Another is equality in the larger society such as employment. There is also equality within cultures and religions, such as women serving in all roles, such as imam, priest, bishop, cardinal, or pope.

The benefits of women’s equality are deep and wide. Most fundamental is the basic protection of women. That’s needed because women everywhere are victimized: from being genitally mutilated as young girls to being abused, beaten, raped, and even murdered – often in their own home.  

Then there is the benefit of the enhancement of women’s lives: at home, through learning, at work, at leisure, and as citizens of the community.

There are also other benefits of equality that echo throughout any society and beyond. One example: less terrorism. What if Islamic societies were to accept the equality of women? Then, I believe, there would not be terrorism like we have today. After all, a central feature of ISIS in the Middle East, or Boko Haram in Nigeria, or the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan is their absolutely brutal treatment of girls and women.

There is another point that must be stated. Men are attracted to religions, cultures, and institutions that promote inequality. Where men have more power and privilege. Where men can expect women to submit to them sexually and in other ways. And where men’s outbursts of sexual and physical violence – at home and elsewhere – are excused or even celebrated.  

Somehow we must articulate a new vision of co-operation and fulfillment for both men and women. Sure, some change will come naturally with each new generation. But let’s all extend our imaginations here – it would be nice not to have to wait too much longer.

Can cultural norms that are thousands of years old change quickly? Yes. We have seen it before. We can see it again.

Should women be able to vote? Should women be able to participate fully in society? Should women be able to live in freedom from violence? At first these sound like parts of an impossible dream. It is all too easy to think, “That will never happen!”

So, this International Women’s Day, remember that the lesson of history is clear.

A dream can seem impossible – right up until it suddenly is a new reality.

* * * 

See also:

Book Looks at Islamic World

Quality of Life, Well-Being Research Something We Can Feel Good About

Remembering Nellie McClung

Francis Marion Beynon: Compelling Story of a Manitoba Suffragist, Pacifist

More Emphasis on Domestic Violence Prevention is Crucial

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