Today, 29 women are heads of their states. In the last 50 years, more than 1500 reforms to empower women have been passed. In 1975, the first world conference on women’s status was held. 1975 was also named “International women’s year” by the United Nations (U.N.). Since then, the U.N. has declared March 8 as the annual day for celebrating women. March 8 marks the 46th International Women’s Day. Throughout history, women have had to fight for their rights. On this special day, we honour women’s accomplishments without bounds. We celebrate triumphs, including economic, linguistic, scientific, and political achievements. We also honour and thank the women in our lives.
Associate Professor Sonia Kang from the department of management at UTM is Canada’s Research Chair in Identity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Her research focuses on the intersection of inclusion within business practices. Kang is an influential and successful figure in her field. Her research on “resume whitening” won two best paper awards and was recently ranked third on Financial Times’ global top 100 list of “business school research with social impact.”
“International Women’s Day represents the work that has been done by women who created the environment that we are currently able to enjoy, which is relatively better than back then,” says Professor Kang. International Women’s Day is the perfect time to reflect upon the progress that has been made by civil rights activists pushing for women’s rights and the empowerment of women.
One of the pioneers of the civil rights movement was Dorothy Irene Height. Height was an inspiring civil and women rights activist. She was born on March 24, 1912 and passed away on April 20, 2010. Dorothy Height is known as the first leader in the civil rights movement to posit that inequality for women and African Americans should be recognized as an interconnected issue, which initiated the rise of intersectional feminism. Height was rightfully appointed as the president of the National Council of Negro (NCNW) women for four decades. She helped the NCNW win grants to train and assist women in opening businesses. Today, about 40 per cent of U.S. businesses are owned by women, whereas, in the 1970s, only about five per cent did. Height devoted her entire life to fighting for equality. Even during her last days, she continued fighting for inclusivity.
Professor Kang emphasizes that apart from celebrating the achievements of women, International Women’s Day is also about acknowledging gender disparities that continue to persist. “We’re still in a situation where there are massive inequalities that exist along gender lines and so, we need to be realistic about where we still need to go.” Major inequalities and prejudices surrounding gender and identity still prevail, especially in the workplace. Many industries, including academia, are male-dominated. Only 46.7 per cent of women participate in the labour force, as opposed to 74.0 per cent of men.
Professor Kang maintains that using an intersectional feminist approach when reflecting upon gender inequality is essential in our era. “It is particularly important to think about different challenges that women face when their gender identity intersects with factors like race, or disability, or indigeneity, or different kinds of sexual identities,” explains Professor Kang. This is because different groups of women experience different types and degrees of inequality. She highlights how transgender women, for instance, experience different inequalities as compared to other women. We should, therefore, “be mindful of the unique challenges each group of people faces and be grateful for the privileges that we have.”
During Covid-19, women have been disproportionately affected by the virus’ socio-economic consequences in comparison to men. “During the pandemic, a lot of women take a step back in their career and [decline job opportunities] to take on different roles due to increased childcare responsibilities. Unfortunately, even now, these [domestic roles] are disproportionately [taken on] by women.” As such, many might fear the pandemic will set back the progress already made in creating an equal playing field between genders.
As a woman in academia, and like many others, Professor Kang faced challenges, prejudices, and gender stereotypes as she built her career. “I think that all women do experience challenges such as not being taken seriously and not feeling like you belong in this male-dominated world,” she points out. As an academic working in the management department—a field traditionally male-dominated—Professor Kang feels like “there definitely is not enough representation of women, particularly women of color, which is in itself is a challenge since you don’t see yourself represented in your space.”
For Professor Kang, one of her biggest challenges was “constantly blaming herself.” As a woman, it is important to realize that existing gender inequalities are not your cross to bear.
Although women continue to face significant challenges today, there are ways to try and combat them. Among many other methods, Professor Kang believes that “finding a community is important and something that everyone should seek out.” Having people to turn to can help women understand that they are not the only ones facing injustice imposed by society.
Martha Balaguera is a reputable professor from UTM’s political science department. Her research focuses on collective political struggles and transborder activism in the Americas from a feminist viewpoint. Professor Balaguera is moderating an event via Zoom on March 10 on reproductive justice and protests in Latin America. The event is entitled: “The Green Tide: Abortion Protests and Struggles for Reproductive Justice in Latin America.”
For Professor Balaguera, International Women’s Day is also about recognizing the vast gender inequalities present in society. “It is also an opportunity to celebrate women’s struggles to change that,” she adds. As a feminist, Professor Balaguera recognizes how understanding the intersection between the oppression of women and other marginalized groups is vital. She emphasizes that “for different communities, the stakes vary widely.”
“Women’s contributions in the workplace and society at large continue to be less valued than those of men,” Professor Balaguera notes. Similar to Professor Kang, Professor Balaguera struggled with representation in the field of academia.
For Professor Balaguera, feminism has been key to helping her persevere and conquer. Feminist frameworks helped her understand and characterize issues surrounding women’s rights, among others. In understanding them, she was able to fight for change. “Feminism has provided me with a foundation to understand and a language to name them,” explains Professor Balaguera, “as well as a framework by which to seek meaningful change through my research, teaching, and activism.”
Professor Balaguera also found that building community was important to her success. She advises female students to “build community, engage in your local communities to confront structures of oppression. That said, not everyone’s path is the same, and there may be many other ways to create a fulfilling life and career.”Women have worked hard to fight the systemic oppression they face in society. With the help of many civil and women rights activists, tremendous progress has been made since patriarchal times. However, it would be unfair to neglect the gender inequality that still haunts our society. Now more than ever, there is a need for reform. Every day should be International Women’s Day—a day to thank and acknowledge women of the past, and an opportunity to fight for a better future.