"What is 'Women's Day'? Is it really necessary?"
In 1913 Russian revolutionary, Alexandra Kollontai began her article for International Women's Day with the above two questions. In hindsight, I think almost everyone would agree that women in 1913 – who could not vote and had few civil/legal rights – needed a women’s day to advance their rights. Since the first International Women’s Days (the first women's day was 1909, while the first International Women's Day was 1911), the struggle of women to defend and expand our rights has resulted in many monumental gains throughout the world. Nevertheless, over 100 years after Kollontai was forced to answer these questions, feminists in 2020 are asked the same questions: "What is 'Women's Day'? Is it really necessary?" Indeed, our forbearers of the women’s rights movements of the 1930s, 1950s, 1970s, 1990s, and 2010s also faced these same questions: "What is 'Women's Day'? Is it really necessary?"
But just as the question was ridiculous in 1913, it remains absurd today.
As Kollontai responded in 1913, "Life itself has already supplied a clear and eloquent answer."
What is life’s “clear and eloquent answer”?
According to the United Nations' "2019-2020 Families in a Changing World Report" & "Progress of the World’s Women Report":
- Women earn 23% less than men globally.
- Women occupy only 24% of parliamentary seats worldwide.
- 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence throughout their lifetime.
- In 2017, more than half (58%) of all female victims of intentional homicide were killed by a family member, amounting to 50,000 deaths in the year or 137 women each day; and more than a third (30,000) of these were killed by their current or former intimate partner.
- In 19 countries and territories (out of 189) the law explicitly requires women to obey their husbands; in 17 countries and territories, married women are not allowed to travel outside of the home in the same way as married men.
The non-governmental organization Oxfam's annual report, "Time to care: Unpaid and underpaid care work and the global inequality crisis" reports that in 2020:
- The 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa combined (approximately 670 million women).
- Women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work every day —a contribution to the global economy of at least $10.8 trillion a year, more than three times the size of the global tech industry.
From economic inequality, to inequality under the law, to femicide, women worldwide continue to face injustice and inequality in every country. Fighting these injustices is a challenge, not only because of systemic sexism and inequality but also because of the divisions we face as women. Racism, sexism, ageism, xenophobia, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of systemic discrimination are all ideologies that separate women from recognizing our common interests and working together for our rights.
Women in Canada: Highlighting one year since the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls
While International Women’s Day celebrates the gains and achievements of women around the world, it is also a time to reflect on the year that has passed and assess our tasks for the years to come. In Canada, women have made many advancements in our rights: from the right to vote to equality under Canadian law, and the creation of various institutions for women. At the same time, many systemic issues continue to hold back women in Canada.
In my article for Fire This Time Newspaper for International Women’s day in 2017, I wrote, "While Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calls himself a 'feminist' and has garnered much praise for his open stance on gay marriage and LGBTQ+ rights, we have yet to see what he will do for Canada's most marginalized women; or how his feminism will work to provide affordable childcare and housing for women who need it; or his policies to end violence against women in Canada; or to improve access to abortion for women in rural communities, or eliminate the wage gap. Of course, we understand that men who call themselves feminists are useless to our cause unless they take action by our sides.” ("From Canada to Cuba: What Women Have Achieved and What We Need to Keep Fighting For" FTT Vol. 11 Is. 3)
Today, three more years with Prime Minister Trudeau have elapsed, and his brand of ‘feminism’ has been further exposed. None of the issues I raised in 2017 have been tackled in any real or life-changing way for women in Canada. However, one of the steps taken for women under the Trudeau Liberal government, which was repeatedly rejected by the previous Conservative Harper government, was the establishment of the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (NIMMIWG).
In September 2016, the government of Canada and all provincial and territorial governments presented their mandate for the government-funded NIMMIWG. The mandate requested a report on:
"i. Systemic causes of all forms of violence – including sexual violence – against Indigenous women and girls in Canada, including underlying social, economic, cultural, institutional, and historical causes contributing to the ongoing violence and particular vulnerabilities of Indigenous women and girls in Canada, and
ii. Institutional policies and practices implemented in response to violence experienced by Indigenous women and girls in Canada, including the identification and examination of practices that have been effective in reducing violence and increasing safety."
On the surface, this seems positive, as they are looking for systemic and ‘root’ causes of the issue, in many ways. However, this meant the National Inquiry would be similar to dozens of previously written reports. Meanwhile, many unsolved cases and families are waiting for loved ones to come home – yet this inquiry had no mandate to open police files or demand the records for these families. So, while the report criticizes institutions and ‘the system’ - it did not actually have the power to force police to surrender information or to reform the inequalities in Canada’s justice system.
Almost a year ago, on June 3, 2019, the NIMMIWG concluded and published its important report. Most surprisingly, the report called the ongoing neglect by the government of Canada towards murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls “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."
While calling out Canada for genocide, the 1,200-page report also features 231 “Calls for Justice.” Many of these calls are aimed at the government of Canada and its inaction in the face of dozens of reports on the issues facing Indigenous women and girls. The “Calls for Justice” also call for changes in other institutions, including the media, health services, social work, education, and others.
Meanwhile, the simple publishing of the NIMMIWG report has not made life safer for Indigenous women and girls in Canada. The Statistics Canada "Homicide in Canada" report clarifies that in 2018, Indigenous women accounted for nearly 37% of female homicide victims, despite representing only 5% of Canada's female population (this is an 11% increase from 2014). The report also explains that, tragically, Indigenous homicide victims were generally younger than non-Indigenous victims, "the average age for Indigenous female victims was 30 compared to 43 for non-Indigenous females."
Statistics Canada also reports, "In 2018, there were six more Indigenous female victims of homicide than in 2017, marking a second consecutive annual increase."
According to the CBC News, "It is still not known how many Indigenous women and girls have been murdered or have gone missing in Canada. Some estimates have suggested approximately 4,000 Indigenous women have been killed or have disappeared over the past few decades, but the inquiry said an exact number might never be known." Adding to this, we do know from the national inquiry that Indigenous women and girls are 16 times more likely to be murdered or to go missing than white women.
So while the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is consistently in news headlines, one might think the situation is improving, however reading beyond the headlines we see that Canada is still a very dangerous place to be an Indigenous woman or girl. This also does not consider other inequalities Indigenous women and girls face, such as lower life expectancy, higher prison incarceration rates, unequal access to education, healthcare, and social services, etc. This is but a small snapshot focused on the murdered and the missing.
We cannot wait for change
On top of all of this, nearly a year after the NIMMIWG published its report and findings, the government of Canada continues to stall on implementing the "Calls for Justice." The Trudeau administration recently announced a delay in issuing their action plan on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, due to the Covid-19 global pandemic. This official government response to the 231 “Calls for Justice” was expected to arrive before the June 3, 2020 anniversary of the report. Former chief commissioner of the NIMMIWG, Marion Buller, told CBC News, "Using COVID-19 as an excuse for delaying a national action plan — to me — is really like saying, well, the dog ate my homework."
Despite the government of Canada's continued stalling and inaction of the 231 "Calls for Justice." Indigenous women and their allies are not waiting. They are continuing to mobilize for their rights and against this ongoing genocide. On February 14, 2020, thousands of people came together in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side for the 29th annual Women’s Memorial March. This march has brought together people in British Columbia for dozens of years, demanding justice for the missing and murdered. While the National Inquiry is seen by many as an important step, the fact that thousands came to the streets again this year, demonstrates that those in struggle understand their fight is not over. In many ways, after 29 years, it is finally beginning to get the attention it deserves.
May 5 has also been declared a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in both the U.S. and Canada. While the global pandemic meant that many rallies and events were not organized in the streets, Indigenous women and girls continued to create spaces of resistance online. From the red dress campaign, to webinars, to articles, to TikTok videos – Indigenous women and girls celebrated their strength and resilience while continuing to demand justice.
In Canada, looking at the level of comfort and quality of life enjoyed by many, people often ask the same question that was asked to Alexandra Kollontai and the women’s movement in 1913, "What is 'Women's Day'? Is it really necessary?"
But through this small window highlighting just the work of the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, life continues to supply "a clear and eloquent answer."
The reason women have the right to vote is because women struggled. The reason women have the right to abortion in Canada is because women struggled. The reason same-sex marriage is legal in Canada is because the LGBTQ+ community struggled. The reason Canada had a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, is because Indigenous women struggled. Society has never gifted women with their rights, they have always had to unite and fight - this is the importance and legacy of International Women’s Day.
Follow Tamara on Twitter: @THans01
Back to Article Listing