As we mark International Women’s Day, I am reminded of the sacrifices so many women have made to build a safer and more just future for us all. The Government of Canada’s theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) 2022 is Women Inspiring Women. Indeed, women have forged pathways to peace, discovered new medicines, and persevered for the right to education.
Theirs are stories of symbols and inspiration, leadership and hope. They are worth celebrating, today and everyday. With everything going on in the world at this moment, it is comforting to know there are heroes among us.
The situation in Europe and its potential implications for global peace and security is deeply disturbing. We also know the brutality of war and its many ramifications are particularly harmful on women and girls. Within this darkness there is a glimmer of light. At the forefront among the global efforts to protect lives in Ukraine and secure a more peaceful global future are three Canadian women leaders. Federal Cabinet Ministers Chrystia Freeland (Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister), Mélanie Joly (Foreign Affairs Minister), and Anita Anand (Defence Minister) have been working tirelessly alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to respond to international events unfolding with unprecedented speed and consequence and in real time.
There is a common refrain that by adding women we can change politics. We can hope the presence of these Canadian women at the international table will help deliver the world from further tragedy.
Of course, not every threat is existential, not every risk that affects us is of an international or national scope. For millions of women and girls in Canada, the challenges are more personal and direct, but as part of the overall strive for equity and justice, no less meaningful: the indignity of being passed over for a job, the violation of inaccessible justice, the reality of an increased risk to safety because of gender, the threats to well-being imposed by poverty. Each of these risks are heightened if you are Black, Indigenous or a woman of colour.
But here again, there are beacons of progress, champions for change, advocates for equality, examples of trailblazers. In my own career I have benefited from women who have came before me and helped shatter glass ceilings to allow me to step up. Crossroads itself has its own history of such women, not the least of which is our late Executive Director Karen Takacs.
I also seek and find inspiration from our volunteers and partner organizations, operating in the Global South under much greater pressures and confronting structures of misogyny. Everyday, incredible, measurable advancement is being made. More girls are learning about their rights over their own bodies in Burkina Faso. More communities are being protected from the risks and affects of climate change in Senegal. More women are engaging in politics in Ghana. And more women-led businesses are starting up in e-ESwatini.
As we have been recently reminded, global progress is not a guarantee, and does not take the form of a straight line. We must continue the work, and, on days such as International Women’s Day, take a moment to pause to remember our collective achievements and those who have, and are, leading the way.