Tiffany Kallinikos never has to check her calendar to confirm it’s International Men’s Day. She feels it. Every day.
She doesn’t celebrate it with a rally. In fact, the third-year women’s studies major didn’t join the hundreds of men, women and children in Toronto’s International Women’s Day rally on March 8 either.
However, like those that did march, she is happy with the progress women have made — though not entirely satisfied.
“It feels like every day is International Men’s Day,” Kallinikos says. “We’ve come a long way but more needs to be done.”
Celebrating the advancements made by women while emphasizing the battle for equality is far from over has been the main premise of International Women’s Day since Canada first officially marked it in 1977.
The day has expanded into International Women’s Week, beginning on March 2 and ending with nationwide rallies on March 8.
The biggest event in North America was in Toronto, where around 1,000 people gathered and marched, despite severe winter weather that closed down some university campuses.
In 1911, when International Women’s Day began in Copenhagen, Denmark, it was an occasion to protest the discrimination against and exclusion of women in politics and the workplace.
Back then, women had very little to celebrate but decades later, many barriers have been broken down and women are now securing positions in historically male fields such as engineering, politics and policing.
Female representation within the Toronto Police Services has steadily increased as the force actively recruits more women.
“It’s one of the service’s priorities to increase the number of women to reflect the community in which we police,” said Constable Wendy Drummond.
As of 2007, about 16 per cent of the force’s uniformed officers and just over 54 per cent of non-uniform employees were women.
But the most advanced area to date in terms of gender equality, is education.
According to the Canadian Labour Congress, 50 per cent of women aged 25 to 44 have a post-secondary education, compared to just 40 per cent of men.
The fruits of this academic progress are seen each year at the independent Linden School in Toronto. Linden is a girl-centred school that has enjoyed a 100 per cent acceptance rate to the program or university of each girl’s choice since its first graduates in 1998.
The prospects for women now seem so bright that the official International Women’s Day site boasts, “The tone and nature of IWD has, for the past few years, moved from being a reminder about the negatives to a celebration of the positives.”
But some women say this shift from emphasis on the continued struggles has resulted in the stagnancy of women’s progress.
With the number of women in post-secondary schools growing faster than in Canadian professions, the fear arises that many young women will be given the education but not the opportunities to be recognized in their area of expertise.
“I think we’re here based on our merits and we’re going to get places based on our merits [but] I hope it’s not a dead end,” Kallinikos said. “I hope we’re not just here to show numbers in some sort of system.”
While some fields are steadily increasing their female representation worldwide, Canadian women are still not even close to equal representation in the male-dominated political arenas.
“It’s strange because in some countries in the Middle East and Africa they have presidents and prime ministers who are women … it’s like we’re falling behind almost,” Kallinikos said. “As far as politics, we’re standing still.”
While many would assume that women have made far more advances in the West than in the rest of the world, the first women heads of state were in countries such as Sri Lanka, India and Argentina, according to the Equal Voice Advisory Board.
Canada joined this club once in 1993, with Kim Campbell’s five-month stint as prime minister.
Leaving aside Governor General Michaëlle Jean’s high position, the number of females in Canadian politics is sobering.
So far this year in federal politics, only 16.3 per cent of the candidates nominated by the Conservative Party of Canada are women. The party with the most women is the New Democratic Party of Canada, with a more progressive, yet still unequal 38 per cent.
Provincially, only British Columbia and Prince Edward Island have seen women premiers — Rita Johnston and Catherine Callbeck, respectively.
The female prime minister and premiers were all elected in the 1990s, which suggests some stagnancy in the advances of women in Canadian politics.
“Things were progressing for several years but based on the records, numbers and feedback … women’s issues are being put on the backburner,” said Helen Chilas, national co-ordinator of the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace (VOW).
Among VOW’s focuses over the last 48 years are peace building, gender equality, human rights and sustainable development.
“We don’t forget that women worldwide still constitute 70 per cent of the world’s poorest,” Chilas said.
The grim economic position of women is seen all over the world but Status of Women Canada reports expose the lack of equity in our own backyard.
“The gap between women and men’s incomes is so large and so intractable that it is accurate to say that women and men literally inhabit two separate economies,” they say on their website.
According to their studies, while the gender income gap was getting smaller from the 1950s to the early 1980s, today it is even widening.
In the 2008 report titled Women in the Workforce: Still a Long Way from Equality, the Canadian Labour Congress points out that the gap is even largest for university-educated women. Ten years ago, they received 75 per cent as much as university-educated men whereas they earned just 68 per cent as of 2005.
Although these statistics clearly show that women are systematically discriminated against even here, many women shy away from voicing their concerns for fear of being labelled feminist.
“There have been some negative connotations around feminism but it’s not about a negative approach and it’s not about hating men,” Chilas said.
“Feminism is equality.”
Kallinikos’ goal is to get into sports broadcasting — a male dominated field — in order to help break down barriers for the next generation of women.
She believes that everyone can do something to continue the advances of women until equality is realized.
Some, like those who marched through freezing conditions across Canada, show their solidarity by uniting annually to raise awareness of women’s issues around the world.
While it’s important to celebrate the achievements women have made, awareness of progress still to be made is important until for Kallinikos, each day stops feeling like International Men’s Day, and becomes anyone’s for the taking.