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Lana Payne: Empower a girl and change the world

"Fearless Girl" statue, New York, by artist Kristen Visbal.
"Fearless Girl" statue, New York, by artist Kristen Visbal.

Every single day, I am inspired and humbled by brave, smart women and girls who, despite systemic sexism, harassment, poverty — and, in some cases, unthinkable circumstances — make their mark.

Lana Payne

And when they do, they make the world better for other women and girls. They empower other women and girls. They show that anything is possible.

But I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I yearn for a day when it isn’t so hard for girls. As the mother of a 16-year-old daughter, I had hoped to have seen more advancement by now. Yes, we continue to make giant strides, but don’t we all wish that the need for such strides was no longer necessary.

October is Women’s History Month in Canada. And this year, Status of Women Canada is calling on women and girls to make their mark and claim their place.

And all around us, bold, smart, funny, hardworking, feminist women are doing just that.

Look at St. John’s city council. With a few notable exceptions, for generations the chamber had been the domain of older white men. No longer. Last week, the city’s most gender-inclusive council in history was sworn in.

It is worthy of celebration.

And so are the everyday acts of women who, with passion and compassion and gutsy determination, push for equality and equity.

There are the union women who demand equality, fairness and economic justice at work and in our broader society.

There are the fierce and fearless women advocates and counsellors who do the so very difficult anti-violence work in our communities and who demand a fairer justice system for survivors.

There are survivor women who, with beautiful and heart-stopping courage, break the silence, despite circumstances we should all spend some time imagining.

There are the girls who fight for the right to an education, to play sports, to be treated as equals. Girls like Malala, who inspired millions around the world with her strength and her voice and her story. This fall, five years after being shot for standing up for the right for girls to be educated, she started her university life at Oxford. Empower a girl and change the world.

There are girls who dare to dream to be rocket scientists, mathematicians and shipbuilders and, yes, prime minister.

There are young women who grasp that second chance and build something great. There are women who fought for those second chances.

And there are the mothers, the single moms who so often sacrifice their dreams, so their kids can live theirs.

They are all making a mark. Some make it quietly, others with breathtaking boldness.

Yes, it’s 2017 and many of us thought the days of making firsts would be long behind us.

And yet we still count. We count because there are so many barriers still to be broken. Not broken for the one or two or three of us, but truly broken, shattered for all women and for all time.

But nearly every single day, we are reminded how fragile the gains made in the advancement of women’s equality really are.

We were reminded when the federal Conservatives tried to install an anti-choice candidate as chair of the Parliamentary Committee on the Status of Women.

Let’s be clear. The right to choose is fundamental to women’s equality. Full stop. No caveats.

So yes, it’s 2017 and a major political party in Canada still works to deny women reproductive rights.

And yes, every day, girls and boys are reminded of the sexism that still permeates every facet of life.

There is the blatant, in-your-face sexism of the kind employed by MP Gerry Ritz when he referred to the country’s environment minister, Catherine McKenna, as “Climate Barbie.”

There is the sometimes subtler, sometimes not-so-subtle sexism that women face at work.

And there is the sexism and violence girls see and internalize every day. 

In 2012, the United Nations declared Oct. 11th the International Day of the Girl.

Last week, the UN reminded us that there are 1.1 billion girls in the world, and “every one of them deserves equal opportunities for a better future. They are a source of energy, power and creativity. They can drive change and help build a better future for all. Yet, most girls face disadvantage and discrimination on a daily basis, and those living through crises are suffering even more.”

The global rights agency called on all of us to do what we can to “empower girls, before and after crisis.” When we do, we build a better, fairer and more equal world.

That crisis can be a war zone half a world away, institutional sexism at home or the abuse of power by a Hollywood mogul.

They are all dehumanizing. And we can all do something. We can empower a girl in our lives.

 

Lana Payne is the Atlantic director for Unifor. She can be reached by email at lanapaynenl@gmail.com. Twitter: @lanampayne Her column returns in two weeks.

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