Women’s rights then, now, and how we move forward
By Tania Arora, Staff Reporter
International Women’s Day has its roots in the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York, prompting the Socialist Party of America to begin celebrating February 28 as National Women’s Day the following year. In 1975, in the wake of then-ongoing International Women’s Year, the United Nations (UN) designated March 8 as International Women’s Day.
The day is meant to celebrate the achievements of women in various fields such as economic, social, political, and cultural. The theme for 2019 as decided by the UN, “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change,” focuses on empowering women. Internationally, purple was decided as the colour of the day to symbolize women. However, a combination of purple, green, and white has been used historically.
Canada’s theme this year is #InnovateForChange. It is meant to call out to the world and encourage everyone to create a more equal global society. This can be done by maximizing the potential power of technology with the removal of barriers that women currently face in areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Under the campaign, the Government of Canada stated on the Status of Women Canada website, “In Canada, only a third of graduates in STEM are women, a difference that’s magnified in fields such as engineering and computer science. Meanwhile, Canada and other countries face major job shortages in many STEM fields. When women are held back from filling high-quality jobs like these, Canada’s economy is also held back. Increasing the number of women in STEM is a simple, direct and effective way to fuel change that improves the lives of people across Canada.”
Women Students’ Representative for the DSU Aahelee Bandyopadhyay, hailing from the Kolkata, shared with the Other Press her experience so far as a feminist.
“Being an international student in Canada comes with perks and a lot of hardships,” said Bandyopadhyay. “Conquering the challenges determine[s] one’s ability to thrive in a foreign nation.”
While many governments across the globe have taken steps to promote the participation of women at various levels, there is still work to be done in achieving global equality. A lot of women’s struggles are still hidden within domestic and private spheres.
Bandyopadhyay said, “The one word that scares people around me the most is ‘feminist’ and I [am] an outspoken feminist. I have been living in Vancouver for two years and a few months and my journey hasn’t been a smooth one. As an average individual would face, I faced thick and thin situations throughout these two long years. Being a student of Sociology and Anthropology, I was always inclined towards being a feminist and unconsciously I was one, but now I can say out loud and proud that I am proud to be a woman and my unique sense of womanhood defines me.”
Society has come a long way in recognizing women’s abilities and achievements. However, the hard truth still exists that in many places there is still rampant gender-based inequality.
“There were situations in Vancouver when I faced a lot of criticisms for being outspoken and a loud feminist and consequently discouraging my field researches which are mostly based on [a] feminist agenda (sex workers of DTES, unpaid household labour, the gender wage gap, [et cetera]). One thing I would love to say to all the students who are reading my story—never back down. Never be afraid to express your emotions; that’s how you express yourself to the world,” said Bandyopadhyay.
It certainly feels as though society has seen a rise in the number of campaigns and movements involving women that have inspired the world. Gone are the days when a woman could be “tamed,” expected to stay indoors, and not treated equally. Women today are better equipped with the knowledge, resources, and international support to demand equality for themselves.
On being asked what message Bandyopadhyay would like to share with Other Press readers, she said, “Do not lose hope in yourself and try to be a little bit more confident about who are and what defines who with every passing day. When it comes to feminism, this ideology can be embraced by anyone regardless of one’s gender. As the famous literary critic and feminist bell hooks [said], ‘Feminism is for everyone.’”