GUEST COMMENT: Women have come far, but not far enough

This week marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. As a feminist scholar, I know I have benefitted from feminism.

To think that my parents do not have high school diplomas and I have four college degrees! I am a testament to advances that women have made. I am only one example, since so many other Latinas are not graduating from high school – let alone attending university. I am in fact an outlier – a trailblazer.

International Women’s Day feels personal to me – a good day to remind oneself that feminists’ gains or women’s gains are incomplete.

Today more women are working in the paid workforce and in industries that their mothers and grandmothers could not have. The latest research from Catalyst, a non-profit whose mandate is to get more women in business, reveals the growing economic gender gap between men and women. Men are out-earning women at greater numbers. According to Statistics Canada, the gap has increased markedly during the last 20 years. Women working full-time now earn approximately 71.3 per cent what men make. As well, women with similar levels of education to men are earning on average 68.3 per cent of what men earn. These numbers are not good for women or families for that matter.

In terms of formal politic,s the provinces are ahead of the game. Currently British Columbia’s three major parties have female leaders. Next week, Christy Clark will be sworn in as B.C.’s second woman premier, as Rita Johnston was the first in 1991. British Columbia is definitely doing better in terms of female leadership. But federally we need to see better numbers than the current 20-22 per cent. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that we can get to the so-called critical mass of 33 per cent. This is where social scientists have noted that more institutional change can be made.

Now, when we look at racialized or minority women’s group gains the picture is not quite as rosy. Aboriginal women are over-represented in prisons and under-represented at all levels of education in Canada. Also, when we look at statistics for non-white groups, we see that gains are not as marked. When we also look at poverty indices we see that women are over-represented.

So, we might be able to say that certain segments of the women’s population have made gains. Specifically, middle-class women are doing well and have made gains, but examining the entire picture, we need to understand that more work needs to get done.

We cannot get comfortable and must continue to support girls’ and women’s gains. Hopefully my daughters and grand-daughters will gain from programs and these conversations will be a thing of the past. We will look back when there was not parity and wonder why people were not as evolved.

Until then, let’s celebrate International Women’s Day and support feminism. To not do so is short-sighted.

Janni Aragon, PhD is a senior instructor of political science at the University of Victoria.

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