IWD 2022

No march through the streets of San Miguel this International Women’s Day. I think it is safe to say that, when the world went into lockdown in March 2020, none of us would have imagined such a possibility, wherever we live.

The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women in ways too numerous to list. Rates of intimate partner abuse have shot through the ceiling because of stay-at-home protocols, while those rules also created barriers for women who needed to access services and supports. Women working on the frontlines in health and elder care and in low-paid but suddenly high-risk jobs in retail sales faced increased chances of becoming infected with COVID-19. Other women saw their jobs disappear as the hospitality industry had to limit its operations. Mothers with young children found themselves home schooling for the first time in their lives.

Collectively, we have lost ground that will take years or even decades to regain. Individually, many of us have struggled to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

What’s to celebrate?

It’s been a tough two years, which can make it hard to find anything to celebrate on International Women’s Day. But, even as we reflect on what we have lost and what struggles lie ahead, let’s also make space on March 8th to remember what we have accomplished during these two years.

Here are some reasons to celebrate:

  • We are still here, strong and determined. Women’s shelters, sexual assault/rape crisis centres and crisis lines have remained open every day and night during the pandemic, offering critical supports to women;
  • The violence against women movement, in Canada and around the world, has survived because we were able to be creative and flexible. When we had to reduce capacity in shelters, we put women and their children into hotel rooms. When we couldn’t see women in person, we went online. We developed new services or expanded old ones. We learned how to provide court support virtually;
  • Many of us have found internal resiliencies we didn’t know we had. We may have tough days or even weeks, and we may long for a return to how we used to work, but we are hanging in;
  • Public, and political, awareness about intimate partner abuse has never been greater in Canada. The pandemic has brought intimate partner abuse and gender-based violence more generally out of the shadows and into the limelight. In the first several months of the pandemic, I did more media interviews than I had done in the preceding two years;
  • The federal government has committed to the development and implementation of a National Action Plan on Violence Against Women and Gender-Based Violence, thanks in large measure to a phenomenal grassroots effort led by Women’s Shelters Canada to develop a blueprint to guide those efforts;
  • All provinces and territories, except Ontario, have signed on to the federal $10/day child care plan. For those of us in Ontario, this needs to be a key advocacy issue in the upcoming months, especially as the provincial election draws closer. If Doug Ford can give rebates and end renewal fees for car licences and drop the tolls on highways 412 and 418, he can sign on with the federal government to deliver $10/day child care;
  • Changes to the federal Divorce Act and Ontario’s Children’s Law Reform Act include an expansive definition of family violence, which is now a mandatory consideration when decisions are made about parenting arrangements for children. Lawyers can learn how to screen for family violence using a new tool developed by the federal Department of Justice.

Looking to the future

There’s a lot to worry about this week. The convoy that held Ottawa hostage for weeks and closed important border crossings has illustrated the deep divide that exists within this country; a divide that we must find a way to close. Canada continues to pay little more than lip service to its so-called commitment to reconciliation with Turtle Island’s Indigenous peoples. The Russian invasion of Ukraine opens a terrifying door of possibilities.  The climate crisis continues.

But we can still celebrate on IWD 2022, even if it is alone, in small groups or online. And, we can make space to look forward with hope, both individual and collective, while still living in a world largely driven by this damn pandemic.

A great place to start is with the UN Women’s “Beyond COVID 19: A Feminist Plan for Sustainability and Social Justice.”

The Plan acknowledges that we have to learn to live with COVID-19, but that we can emerge from this crisis to “build back better.” It proposes transformative change by forging a new feminist social contract and creating a feminist politics for a post-COVID world. Through such a transformation, says the UN, we can develop an economy that supports women’s livelihoods, puts care at the centre of a sustainable and just economy and creates gender-just transitions for a sustainable future.

There’s a spot for all of us in a plan like that, and that is something to celebrate on International Women’s Day 2022.

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