On January 21, 2017, women, as well as their allies, began gathering in Washington DC for the Women's March on Washington. Anticipated numbers were quickly surpassed, as more and more tens of thousands of protesters arrived, equipped with signs and banners, and many bringing along their children to teach them to stand up for their rights even if they haven't yet learned to stand! Before long the plan to march in Washington was no longer possible as the number of protesters was so large, at over 1 million, that the entire march route was a sea of protesters. The call to join in protest against the anti-women policies of the newly inaugurated president Trump went far beyond Washington DC. While tweets and news media were reporting the scenes in Washington, before long images and videos were pouring in from across the US and around the world! Big name cities like London, Paris, Sydney, New Delhi, Mexico City and Buenos Aires held massive protests, but also some more unexpected locations took to the streets. The rural village of Sandy Cove, Novia Scotia (population 65) held a 15 women strong march, and researchers in Antarctica held a protest (complete with penguins) which brought the protests to 7 continents! At the end of a day of marching, rallying and chanting, estimates take the numbers to 5 million protesters from 700 demonstrations world wide.
While many picket signs and demands at the Women's March were directed against Trump, women's oppression did not start with Trump and there is a lot more than one man that stands in the way of women's liberation. However Trump's brazen disregard for women's rights and the fact that a man at the highest position of power in United States is threatening the hard fought gains women have made was a catalyst to bring women, and men as their allies, to their feet and to the streets. What really brought women to the streets is lifetimes and countless generations of inequality, sexual violence, domestic abuse and exploitation.
Here in Vancouver, Canada over 15,000 women took to the streets in protest. The atmosphere was charged with energy as more and more people arrived in Downtown Vancouver, raising their picket signs and voices for a march through the streets. The steady drumming of Indigenous elders led the march, and chants of “Women's rights, under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!” rang through the air. Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO) participated in full force to support the march, with a banner held high demanding “Women of the World Unite Against War and Occupation!” and picket signs that went out throughout the crowd with the demands “Resist Trump! Resist War! Resist Islamophobia! Resist Racism! Resist Sexism! Resist All Oppression!” MAWO's participation in the march and informational table at the rally following the march brought attention to Trump's destructive war-mongering policies and the long-standing effects of imperialist war and occupation. The new era of war and occupation that has been attacking country after country for the last 16 years, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Libya, Syria, Yemen and beyond, and it is women who suffer the most under these wars and occupations.
Women in imperialist countries have the responsibility to fight against the wars effecting our sisters, and brothers, at the hands of the governments who claim to represent us. These governments certainly don't represent us when they are sending their bombs abroad, nor do they represent women here at home where the struggle for equality and women's rights still have a long way to go.
Women in North America know inequality all too well, when they come home at the end of a day at work earning less then men. In the US the wage gap is an average $0.79 to every $1 earned by men, as calculated by the US Census Bureau in 2014. In Canada the gap is widening. In 2009 women earned on average 74.4% of what men earned, yet currently women earn 72% of what men earn, according to a 2016 report by Oxfam Canada and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Children are also facing the effects of this inequality, as 21% of single mothers in Canada raise their children while living in poverty, compared to 7% of single fathers. In the province of British Columbia, which has some of the worst child poverty rates nationwide, one out of five children are living in poverty.
While the advancement of women in society and the workplace largely depends on a women's reproductive rights, in Canada and the US this is still heavily limited and often is another cost women have to pay. While women are tasked with the burden of preventing pregnancies, in this day and age they have a wide array of options in terms of contraceptives… right? Paying for them is another matter. Most extended health care plans in Canada do not cover contraceptives, or only cover oral contraceptives (the pill). So if as a women you want to take birth control in the form of a shot, a patch or other method, or even non-hormonal birth control such as the copper IUD, this is coming out of your own pocket. Even more enraging is the reason why only oral contraceptive is sometimes covered - it is due to the fact it can be used for non-contraceptive related health issues, and it's use for birth control is only due to this loop hole.
One of the biggest battles women face in North America and worldwide is the right to choose. In Canada although women have had the right to free abortions since 1988 after a long and hard struggle, access is another matter. Many areas of Canada do not have nearby abortion providers, and Prince Edward Island (PEI) does not have an in-province provider at all. In some provinces there are lengthy approval processes, restrictions on the type of abortion, wait lists, and differing gestational limits. In the US abortion is also legal but it is under constant threat and also diminished by access. New restrictions are constantly causing abortion providers to have to close their doors, and many states restrict insurers from covering the cost of an abortion.
Here at home and abroad, our sisters are being subjected to sexual assault, rape and domestic abuse. The statistics are staggering, but for most women it comes as no surprise that 1 in 4 women in North American will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime. In every statistic on sexual assault, it must be considered that of every 100 incidents of sexual assault in Canada, only 6 are reported to the police. Often this is domestic abuse, and world wide up to 70% of women experience physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lives.
Despite these horrific figures, in the US, Trump is considering cutting funding for Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) grants. As it stands, funding for domestic violence programs in the US is already insufficient. In 2015 the National Network to End Domestic Violence reported 12,000 inquiries for domestic violence services that could not be fulfilled due to a lack of resources, meaning women could not access vital resources such as attaining safe shelter, legal services, transportation assistance and childcare.
It is with the weight of all these injustices, and many more that this short article couldn't contain, that women around the world were united in protest on January 21st. Women know that all the rights they currently have, from reproductive rights to the right to vote and work, are hard fought for rights and in many parts of the world are still being fought for. We are eternally indebted to the long and arduous struggles by the women who came before us. However we cannot take these gains fore-granted - we must fight tooth and nail to maintain and extend these rights as they are constantly under threat.
We must take pride in our numbers and our unity on January 21st, but not sit back on it. January 21st is only a starting point, a boost to propel us forward. Women as a movement is a force that can bring about change in this world not only for the betterment of women but for our world as a whole. It is not only in the arena of women's rights that women must be active, but in making every place a women's place. A women's place is in the fight against war and occupation, against environmental degradation and in labour struggles, in science, sport, art and politics. With unity, action and organization the women of this world must step forward as a movement, and turn this world into a better and more just place.
Follow Janine on Twitter: @janinesolanki
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