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Opinion: Gender equity, where are we today?

A column looking at gender equity and equality ahead of International Women's Day.

Another year is in the books, and it is time to again check where we stand on gender equity.

March 8 is International Women's Day, when people around the world celebrate women's achievements, raise awareness about discrimination and take action to drive gender parity. It's the day when we look back at the progress in building an equal present and future, and set more goals for the future to get even further.

Living in Estevan, from one year to the next, I feel and see a lot of progress being done in that field. Throughout the past year, I got to meet strong and inspiring women working in coal mining, I came across women moving the oil industry, I talked to young girls exploring the world of mechanics and others building careers in many other fields, some of which were traditionally men's prerogative.

Working on this week's edition of the Mercury I got to chat with wonderful local women, who do a lot to embrace equity in the field of technology and innovations, and who lead by example, pushing for equal opportunities for women in the digital world.

Throughout the past year, I've heard stories about challenges women still face in their daily lives and at work, but even more about support systems that exist around them, about equality that is now often being built into social, economic, political and business systems, about changes in people's mindsets that will one day allow us to see a truly gender-equal world. 

Living here, more and more often I tend to think that I actually may see the day when the fight for gender equality will become a notion of the past. Of course, so far, more needs to be done to embrace genuine equity. While a lot is being done to create equal opportunities, we all have different backgrounds and start from different places, so true inclusion and belonging require equitable action, as the IWD website states, and that's still to be achieved.

But I feel that we are moving in the right direction on many fronts here.

However, even my own, narrow personal experience shows how far apart different countries are in that process.

Here is one example. International Women's Day was a big part of our family tradition since I was born. The USSR started celebrating March 8 as Women's Day in 1921, well before Canada joined the movement in 1977. But I feel the idea of equality, which was the central concept of International Women's Day since 1911 when it was made official for the first time was lost somewhere along the lines. Back then over a million people in several countries in Europe demanded to end discrimination against women and pushed for women to be allowed to vote, work, hold public office and more.

As long as I've seen March 8 being celebrated as Women's Day in Russia (and I'm assuming in most of the former Soviet countries), it's been corroded and drifted far away from its original prototype. There it is a stat holiday when men buy women around them (wives, girlfriends, mothers, daughters, etc.) flowers and gifts, take over daily duties and make them feel special. Even police officers, 99.9 per cent of whom are men, present female drivers with flowers that day.

That happens for one day a year. Outside that day, women still face discrimination and unequal opportunities in most industries and outside workplaces. 

A broader look at different situations in the world suggests things are way worse in many places, not only with the implementation of equal rights but with the entire notion of gender equality.

I'm subscribed to reports from Human Rights Watch, and reading about the situation in Afghanistan, where women now see decades of hard-earned rights stripped away from them, is heartbreaking. Afghanistan is currently among the worst countries for women's rights, along with Syria, South Sudan, Congo and several other states in Africa and Asia.

Iran has also made headlines many times due to their approach to women's rights and gender equality. (If you are interested in learning more and talking about the situation in Iran, the Estevan Public Library's book club is currently reading Prisoner of Tehran, a memoir by Marina Nemat, which is to be discussed on March 21. And on April 6, the Estevan Arts Council is to bring the same-named performance to the Comp.)

So, to answer the question I posed in the headline, we, first of all, need to decide who we mean by "we".

I believe here in Canada, a lot is being done to embrace gender equity, and if we keep going in that direction, we are to see a more prosperous, successful and equal world. However, the world is still very far from gender equality and who knows if some places will ever choose to head that way.

(Which once again reminds me not to take my life with its freedoms for granted. And the same I wish to you.)

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