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International Women's Day: Women are Persons!

Posted Mar 08 2009 3:38pm
While in Ottawa, we visited the monument on Parliament Hill entitled "Women Are Persons!" It is a tribute to five Canadian women, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards, who won the "Person's Case" in 1929. The Supreme Court of Canada had ruled in 1928 that a woman is not a qualified person and therefore could not be appointed to the Senate of Canada. The Famous Five as they are called, appealed to the British Privy Council and the decision was overturned. The larger than life bronze sculptures were popular with visitors who could sit in an empty chair beside the ladies.

Women's rights in Canada have come a long way in the past century because of the efforts of strong women who fought for equality in our nation. The right for a married woman to own property, the right to vote, the right to govern, the right of equal pay for equal work, legal rights against sexual harrassment;- these milestones have been achieved in the lifetime of some people still living today.

My maternal grandmother was affected directly by the changes in our society in the early 1900's. She became a medical doctor in 1918, graduating from the University of Toronto. (I have written about this in a previous post ). Her personal library contained many books by Canadian women who pioneered change for women in this country including Nellie McClung, Susannah Moodie, and Emily Carr. I spent many hours at her house reading these books, many of which have been passed down to me. I do not consider myself a feminist, and consider "male-bashing" to to be distasteful, but I hope I never take the rights enjoyed by women in Canada lightly.

Today is International Women's Day and the United Nations' theme this year is "Women and men united to end violence against women and girls." Here are some global statistics from the website. Lack of education, money and health care continue to leave many women without the power to change their circumstances.

  • Females in developing countries on average carry 20 litres of water per day over 6 km
  • Globally women account for the majority of people aged over 60 and over 80
  • Pregnant women in Africa are 180 times more likely to die than in Western Europe
  • 530,000 women die in pregnancy or childbirth each year
  • Of 1.2 billion people living in poverty worldwide, 70% are women
  • 80% of the world's 27 million refugees are women
  • Women own around only 1% of the world's land
  • AIDS sees women's life expectancy of 43 in Uganda and Zambia
  • Women are 2/3 of the 1 billion+ illiterate adults who have no access to basic education
  • Women do two-thirds of the world's work but receive only 10% of the world's income
  • Women's education is the most powerful predictor of lower fertility rates
  • One year out of college women earn 20% less than men and 10 years later 31% less

It is challenging to fight cultural, religious and economic barriers for changes in the status of women, but like Canada's Famous Five demonstrated, committed individuals can lobby successfully for the equality, education, safety and health of women around the world.
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