International Women’s Day on March 8, 2019, brings another opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements.
The theme of International Women’s Day in Canada is #InnovateForChange to recognize the contributions of women in science and technology. STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) occupations continue to attract a preponderance of men, a trend that needs to change. Government, industry, schools and universities have a part to play. But so do every one of us — male or female. Let’s support the women and girls who will become leaders and innovators in fields begging for new solutions. We can’t be complacent about equality in the workplace as their professional advancement depends on representation, rights, and opportunities.
Today I think of strong women whose influence has affected my life. I think of my late mother and grandmother who persevered through many life challenges as young widows forced to support their families. I think of female executives with whom I worked and who gave generously of their time and talents to further the opportunities for children and families. Working in nonprofit or government organizations, their contributions were not lauded. I think of the many women with whom I socialize — bridge buddies, book club friends, investment club mentors, and knitting experts. I think of women leaders in clubs and groups to which I belong who volunteer in roles where they get little thanks. I think of caregivers who didn’t sign up for a helper role, yet give hours of time and attention to family members who need assistance.
I also think of Canadian women in the public eye who continue to make me proud. These women and so many more have shown that you don’t need to be male or white to change history.
My immediate thoughts go to female politicians. I admire the composure shown last week by Jody Wilson Raybould, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada during her testimony at the Justice Committee. Regardless of politics, readers must agree that she told her story with confidence. No raging; no tears; simply a calm presentation of facts based on her experience. I salute Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs for her leadership in the re-negotiation of the NAFTA agreement. I am awed by the strength shown by Premier Rachel Notley as she faces setback after setback over pipelines. I admire all women who enter politics and submit themselves to the relentless criticism of journalists, colleagues, and constituents.
I also think of Viola Desmond who was honoured this year as the first Canadian woman pictured on a banknote. A black businesswoman who was jailed in 1946 for refusing to leave a ‘whites only’ section of a Halifax movie theatre, Viola Desmond’s struggle for racial equality and justice provided impetus to Canada’s civil rights movement. What’s most remarkable is that it took more than 60 years for the government of Nova Scotia to issue a posthumous apology to Desmond for the wrongs she endured!
Every Canadian was proud when Alice Munro, famous short story writer from Wingham Ontario, won the Nobel prize for literature in 2013. She also won the Governor General’s Literary Award on two occasions. The Royal Canadian Mint issued a commemorative coin in honour of her winning the Nobel. Most of her stories are set in small towns in SouthWestern Ontario where ordinary life events including secrets of love, sex, and disappointment are captured and turned into literature. Although her writing often makes me uneasy, Margaret Atwood has made a significant contribution to literature as has Carol Shields, Esi Edugyan, Miriam Toews, Emma Donoghue, and Jane Urquhart.
Many women make significant contributions that go unheralded. Another Nobel prize winner, Donna Strickland, who shared the prize for physics in 2018, needs celebration. Physics is largely a male-dominated field yet, Strickland’s work with lasers led to pioneering work in correcting vision for thousands of people. She was un-recognized, even at the university where she worked as an associate professor until the Nobel was announced.
Canada’s first female astronaut, Roberta Bondar, was a space pioneer; she was the first neurologist on a space mission. For more than 10 years Dr. Bondar conducted research into brain adaptation and recovery when subjected to unfamiliar environments. Her expertise in medicine, science, and photography have led to many awards for this woman who hails from Sault St. Marie, Ontario.
Before being named the first black senator in Canada and North America, Anne Cools worked in social services. No stranger to taking a stand for her beliefs, Anne Cools participated in the famous sit-in at the computer center of Sir George Williams University in Montreal in protest of racism by a professor. After police raids, the computer center was destroyed by fire resulting in the arrest of 97 students including Cools. She spent two months in jail but was eventually pardoned. In her Senate career, Cools championed issues of domestic violence and children’s rights.
Buffy Saint-Marie, indigenous singer and songwriter hailing from the Piapot First Nation near Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan grew up in an adopted family in Massachuttes. Despite attempts by many US leaders to discredit Saint-Marie including Presidents Johnson and Nixon, her activism and artistry won the day. Buffy Saint-Marie has focused on issues of indigenous peoples in North American for which she has countless awards.
Soprano Measha Brueggergosman, an eighth generation woman of African Candian heritage grew up singing in the choir of her local Baptist church in New Brunswick. Brueggergosman is internationally acclaimed for her operatic performances. Her recently published memoir Something is Always on Fire candidly explores the challenges and mistakes of her life including infidelity, miscarriages, and a near-death experience coupled with her many successes and awards.
Sandra Oh is one of Canada’s favourite actors who is best known for her role in the TV series, Grey’s Anatomy. Winner of two Golden Globes and many other awards including a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame, Oh never let her Asian background hold her back. Instead, she used it to her advantage turning her racial heritage into an asset.
I could continue with naming Canadian women who merit celebration. Instead, I will close with my thanks to every woman in every country who stands up for what is fair, right and good regardless of personal cost. These women inspire others with their example. They deserve our support and recognition today and everyday!
Thanks for reading my post. Please add your comments and ideas for celebrating women of achievement and for supporting women who make a difference in our future.