Do we still need an International Women’s Day?

March 10, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Dawn Kelly

Guest Column

Yes! There’s no place for complacency. According to the World Economic Forum, none of us will see gender equality in our lifetime, nor will many of our children. In 2019, gender parity was projected to be a century away: now, reports suggest it will be at least 137 years. This is a staggering number for the women, who make up 54% of the population. 

There’s urgent work to do – and we can all play a part. International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements. The day also marks a call to action to accelerate gender parity in the community, the workplace, and politics. 

A new dimension for women in politics has emerged in recent years across the globe. More and more women have now entered into politics and are engaged in political activities. Pioneers, like my grandmother Marie Curtis would be proud of how far we have come, but she would remind us that there is much more work to be done. 

Marie was the first and only woman to be named Reeve of Long Branch in 1953 and entered politics for the same reasons women do today – she was angry! The firing of seven teachers in her community prompted her to become involved in activism and public service. Marie became president of the Home and School Association and successfully lobbied for kindergarten classes to be brought to the community. She began to attend local council meetings to learn more about the business of politics. In 1952, she discovered that the position of Deputy Reeve was being filled by acclamation because the incumbent had no competition. She was never described as a shrinking violet; she threw her hat into the ring and won. It was a testament to her popularity in Long Branch that she continued to be re-elected until she retired in 1962.

During her time in office, storm sewers were installed on every street, roads were paved, and many apple trees were planted throughout the community. Although she was a popular figure in Long Branch, it was on the newly-created Metro Council that people beyond her community began to learn more about Marie Curtis. She was the first woman to sit on the powerful executive committee with Metro Chairman Fred Gardiner, who became a good friend. She knew the power of personal connection and personally oversaw residents’ relocation after Hurricane Hazel in 1954. She knew every person in town through various committees and community groups that she sat on. After retiring as Reeve, she served for an additional six years as Executive Director of the Association of Mayors and Reeves in Ontario (the forerunner to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario).

Women like Marie Curtis paved the way for women today. A self-described housewife, widely known for her delicious apple pies that she loved to bake, Marie did not go to high school or college but took university extension courses. She was a woman who saw a problem and put common sense to use and became a driving force in many community improvement projects. 

The impact she had on the community was immense. Located in Long Branch, on a 35 acre of waterfront property that she saved from developers, is the Marie Curtis Park in her honour. It was dedicated on June 5, 1959, by Fred Gardiner, the Metro Chairman, marked by a plaque and cairn. Marie was also inducted into the Etobicoke Hall of Fame in 1988. 

While we have seen a rise in women in politics and leadership, particularly throughout the pandemic, women are still underrepresented in politics. No country has achieved gender balance. The under-representation of women constitutes a serious democratic deficit, which undermines the legitimacy of the contemporary democratic ideals.  

There is growing recognition of women’s untapped capacity and talents and women’s leadership, but women face the same situation as my grandmother in 1952. Women run to change an issue. Women reflect and worry if they are qualified and can do the job. Women face discrimination and bias at the doors and at the decision-making table. 

Beyond politics, we only have to pick up a newspaper to see that women are underrepresented at every decision-making table. Women belong in business, STEM, skilled trades, law, medicine, finance as well as council chambers and right up to the Senate. Accordingly, the meaningful participation of women in national, local, and community leadership roles has become an essential focus on global development policy.

In 2022, we must step up and be aware of the significant impact of bias on women’s equality – both conscious and unconscious bias. We need to recognize it and call it out. We need to #BreakTheBias

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