We’ve come a long way, ladies!

Six female premiers. An almost equal balance of men and women in the professions. Women entrepreneurs contributing millions to our economy. And on the home front, some “old men did change their minds”!

Haiti-born MIchaelle Jean served as Canada's Governor General, representing the Queen from 2005 to 2010
Haiti-born MIchaelle Jean served as Canada’s Governor General, representing the Queen from 2005 to 2010

I can’t believe it’s already March…time is flying by. Yet I won’t forget International Women’s Day, on its set date of March 8. This is a day that I have recognized all my adult life, especially as I began my professional career and went on to experience marriage, parenthood and divorce.

I first became very active in the women’s movement in the seventies when I recognized there were very few women in leadership. As a teacher at that time, I was angry that young women didn’t have many female principal role models. I was angry that women were paid less than men in many professions. I was angry that maternity leave was very limited and that there was no such thing as daycare. Then I became angry that as a divorced woman I needed my former husband’s approval to change my name back to my birth name. On and on it went, one thing after another.

Lots of momentum

Thankfully, times have changed and the cultural and social support and the acceptance of women in the workplace today are substantial, and the achievement of women in general is remarkable. We now have senior female police officers, female firefighters and female railroad engineers. The number of women in professions such as medicine, dentistry and law has grown to such an extent that there is almost an equal balance between the genders. Women entrepreneurs contribute millions of dollars to our local economy. Women in the work world are now the norm.

Thus, the theme for International Women’s Day 2013, “The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum” is so very appropriate. In fact, for the first time in the history of Canada, six provinces are now led by female premiers! Wow, that’s a sight I never thought I would see.

Although the focus for International Women’s Day is on the accomplishments achieved by women, we also need to remind ourselves that these achievements have benefited men, women and families as a whole. For instance, both parents now have the opportunity for “parental” leave following the birth or adoption of a child. The availability of daycare enables a family to access services while flex time in the workplace makes life easier for all employees. We also now have legislation and policies in every organization that ensure all employees are treated fairly and are free from harassment and bullying of all kinds.

While the aforementioned are all related to “legislative” protection, what pleases me the most about young women and families today is the overall attitude change of young women themselves and the support they are given by families to engage in a career. In my youth, I was driven to attend university because I had witnessed two of my favourite aunts struggling as widows with children. I somehow knew that I needed an advanced education in order to survive in the future. However, my father was very traditional and believed that educating women was a waste of time and money.

Being stubborn, I left home, enrolled in university and worked my way through to several university degrees. When I was ready to graduate with my first degree, I remember my father being very excited. I asked him why he felt that way especially since he had refused to support me. His answer rings in my ears even today. He said, “Old men can change their mind, you know”.
If you think about it, my father’s views were very much of the times he was born and raised in. It was simply the “norm”, and part of Canadian culture for women to take a “second seat”, so to speak. Well, it’s not that way today. Everyone knows that education is key. Everyone knows that women have a right to play a key role in the workplace and in society as a whole, and women are indeed stepping up and taking the lead.

Careers top of mind

It is now second nature that young women think about and plan for their career rather than simply thinking about marriage and/or short term work. Today’s young women carry an attitude of self control and self determination. They have goals and dreams far beyond marriage. Young women today are also much more independent and they like it that way. They are more adventurous and think nothing of travelling alone across the globe. They think nothing of trying and learning something new and taking risks that will help them grow. They grasp life and run with it.

But is there more to be done? Absolutely! Change and improvement should never stop. On the other hand, as we watch the news and learn more about the challenges women face in developing countries, we need to appreciate that as Canadians, we indeed are very fortunate.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Barbara J. Bowes is president of Legacy Bowes Group, a newspaper columnist, an author and a radio host. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com.

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