Home | About Us | Archive | Documents | Campaigns & Issues | Links | Contact Us

      International Women’s Day 2023:
      The Struggle for Equality and Rights for Women in Canada Continues!

      By Alison Bodine

      International Women’s Day (IWD) was first proposed in 1910 by the revolutionary Clara Zetkin at the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, Demark. IWD was a day for women to unite in the struggle for their fundamental rights and equality, and from the very beginning, it was also deeply rooted in the struggle against the imperialist war.

      Today, over 110 years later and International Women’s Day continues to be a necessity. Women around the world still face misogyny, discrimination, legal and economic inequality, femicide, violence and injustice because they are women.

      Fighting these injustices is a challenge, not only because of systemic sexism and inequality but also because of the divisions that are imposed on all people by the capitalist system which the majority of the world lives under. Racism, sexism, ageism, xenophobia, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of systemic discrimination are all ideologies that separate women from recognizing their common interests and working together for their rights. International Women’s Day is a reminder and a call to action for this united struggle.

      The Government of Canada is Not a “Feminist” Government

      The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, claims to be a “feminist,” but Canada’s foreign and domestic policies destroy, not promote, women’s rights.

      Internationally, the government of Canada stands with the U.S. government and their allies in wars and occupations that, in only the last 20 years, have destroyed the lives of the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Haiti. Canada sells arms to the government of Saudi Arabia, which has carried out a ruthless war on the people of Yemen since 2015 and supports the criminal Israeli occupation of Palestine. The Trudeau Liberal government also joins the United States in the imposition of brutal sanctions on countries from Iran and Syria to Venezuela and Nicaragua. These are just a few examples of the government of Canada’s complicity in U.S.-led wars, occupations, and attacks on people around the world. As women are at the centre of families and societies, women’s lives are the most destroyed and uprooted by the wars and occupations that Canada has participated in with the U.S. since 2001, when the new era of war and occupation military campaign began.

      Within Canada, lives for women have been made especially more difficult in the last three years of the Covid-19 pandemic. Women, trans and non-binary people have been the most negatively impacted by job losses and the economic hardships imposed by government mismanagement of the health crisis. Over the last 36 months, women have faced increasing rates of domestic violence, higher rates of job loss, as well as a larger burden of the care of children and families because of the pandemic. Black, Indigenous, and immigrant women and their communities shoulder a disproportionate share of this burden.

      The Trudeau Liberal government has failed to provide affordable childcare and housing for women who need it, end, or even decrease, violence against women in Canada, improve access to abortion for women in rural communities or eliminate the wage gap. On average, a woman in Canada makes 89 cents for every dollar a man makes. For Indigenous, Black, and racialized women, this number is just 60 cents to every dollar (Statistics Canada 2022, The Gender Pay Gap).

      Violence Against Women in Canada is Increasing

      During the Covid-19 pandemic, around the world, violence against women became known as a “shadow pandemic.” As UN Women, the United Nations agency dedicated to women’s issues, reports internationally, “Since the outbreak of COVID-19, emerging data and reports from those on the front lines, have shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified.”

      Statistics Canada has confirmed this horrible trend. In October 2022, Statistics Canada released a report that concluded that incidents of police-reported family violence have continued to increase since 2017. Women and girls are 69% percent of the victims in these cases – and these are just in the reported incidents. The government of Canada’s failure to support people’s needs during the pandemic, combined with skyrocketing rent and housing costs, has forced more women to continue to live with their abusers or face being homeless.

      The Femicide Observatory reports that, on average, a woman or girl in Canada is killed every other day. Once a week, a woman somewhere in the country is killed by her male partner. According to Statistics Canada, in 2021 police reported sexual assault increased to its highest point since 1996 – a number that is likely a gross under-estimate as studies cited by Statistics Canada itself have shown that only 6% of sexual assault cases are reported to the police. Women in Canada, most often Indigenous and racialized women, are also often the victims of harassment and brutality by the police themselves.

      Women’s Right to Choose is Also Under Attack

      In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, unleashing a wave of abortion bans and more restrictive abortion laws across U.S. states. This defeat for women’s rights in the United States also brought the discussion about women’s right to choose to the forefront in Canada. Although abortion is legalized in Canada, women, trans and non-binary people continue to face significant barriers in accessing abortions even where legal, including racism and discrimination.

      In Canada, only one out of every six hospitals has abortion services, according to Options for Sexual Health. People who live in Northern and Indigenous communities have practically no right to choose. In remote and rural communities, the costs to receive care are also compounded by the need to travel, take time off work, and to provide for the care of children or elderly dependents in their absence.

      The right to bodily autonomy and reproductive choice are fundamental human rights and essential to the struggle for all women’s equality and liberation. In Canada, the struggle continues for trans-inclusive abortion services, an end to the forced sterilizations of Indigenous and immigrant women, and free and universal access to sex education, birth control, and abortion services.

      Canada is a Dangerous Place to be an Indigenous Woman

      In 2019, the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (NIMMIWG) published its final report. Importantly, the report called the ongoing neglect by the government of Canada towards murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls for what it is - “an ongoing genocide.” The report further explains, “The truths shared in these National Inquiry hearings tell the story — or, more accurately, thousands of stories — of acts of genocide against First Nations, Inuit and Métis women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. […] This genocide has been empowered by colonial structures, evidenced notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential schools, and breaches of human and Inuit, Métis and First Nations rights, leading directly to the current increased rates of violence, death, and suicide in Indigenous populations.”

      Between 1980 and 2012 alone, the Native Women’s Association of Canada estimates that 4,000 Indigenous women and girls were murdered or went missing. The national inquiry also found that Indigenous women and girls are 16 times more likely to be murdered or to go missing than white women.

      Four years later and Canada is still a very dangerous place to be an Indigenous woman or girl. Indigenous women face higher rates of domestic violence, abuse, assault, police brutality and homicide. Public Safety Canada reported that about half of human trafficking victims in Canada are Indigenous women. Between 2015-2020, 24% of all female homicide victims were Indigenous, alarming statistics given that only 5% of Canada’s population is Indigenous (Statistics Canada).

      In 2022, it was reported that for the first time since being recorded, that over 50% of women held in Federal prisons were Indigenous, while Aboriginal females make up 4% percent of the total female population in Canada. These extremely disproportionately high incarceration rates were also explored in the NIMMIWG inquiry, which found that Indigenous women were most often imprisoned for crimes related to poverty.

      There are also many other inequalities Indigenous women and girls face, such as lower life expectancy and unequal access to education, healthcare, adequate housing, and social services. As just one example of this stark inequality, Prime Minister Trudeau pledged to end all long-term (more than 1-year) drinking water advisories in place in Indigenous reserves in Canada when he was first elected in 2015. Today, in February 2023, there are still 29 long-term advisories in place and an additional 33 short-term drinking water advisories (which doesn’t account for any advisories in place in British Columbia, Yukon, Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, or the parts of Quebec that are North of the 60th parallel). Access to clean drinking water is fundamental to health and well-being. It is shameful and criminal that a government as wealthy as Canada is unable to provide this basic right to all people.

      Women Are Fighting Back!

      On February 14, 2023, thousands of people came together in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side for the 32nd annual Women’s Memorial March, demanding justice for the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

      Since December 2022, for more than 50 days in the harsh Winnipeg winter, members of the community have camped outside of the Brady Road landfill, demanding that police search the landfill for the remains of four Indigenous women, victims of an accused serial killer. They are fighting for justice for Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran and Rebecca Contois, and an unknown victim who has been given the name Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe (Buffalo Woman) by the community, and they are refusing to back down.

      In many different ways, women have continued to organize and fight back in the face of continued attacks on women’s basic and fundamental human rights. This is the importance and legacy of International Women’s Day.

      The reason women have the right to vote is that women struggled. The reason women have the right to abortion in Canada is that women struggled. The reason same-sex marriage is legal in Canada is that the 2SLGBTQIA+ community struggled. The reason Canada had a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is that Indigenous women struggled. Society has never gifted women with their rights, they have always had to unite and fight for their rights.

      Fighting for women’s rights is not only a women’s struggle, but a struggle for all humanity, and it will take the unity of all poor, working, and oppressed people to win!

      Follow Alison on Twitter: @Alisoncolette

      Back to Article Listing