Sunday, March 08, 2009

International Women's Day: Women are Persons!

While in Ottawa, we visited the monument on Parliament Hill entitled "Women Are Persons!" It is a tribute to five Canadian women, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards, who won the "Person's Case" in 1929. The Supreme Court of Canada had ruled in 1928 that a woman is not a qualified person and therefore could not be appointed to the Senate of Canada. The Famous Five as they are called, appealed to the British Privy Council and the decision was overturned. The larger than life bronze sculptures were popular with visitors who could sit in an empty chair beside the ladies.

Women's rights in Canada have come a long way in the past century because of the efforts of strong women who fought for equality in our nation. The right for a married woman to own property, the right to vote, the right to govern, the right of equal pay for equal work, legal rights against sexual harrassment;- these milestones have been achieved in the lifetime of some people still living today.

My maternal grandmother was affected directly by the changes in our society in the early 1900's. She became a medical doctor in 1918, graduating from the University of Toronto. (I have written about this in a previous post). Her personal library contained many books by Canadian women who pioneered change for women in this country including Nellie McClung, Susannah Moodie, and Emily Carr. I spent many hours at her house reading these books, many of which have been passed down to me. I do not consider myself a feminist, and find "male-bashing" to be distasteful, but I hope I never take the rights enjoyed by women in Canada lightly.

Today is International Women's Day and the United Nations' theme this year is "Women and men united to end violence against women and girls." Here are some global statistics from the website. Lack of education, money and health care continue to leave many women without the power to change their circumstances.

  • Females in developing countries on average carry 20 litres of water per day over 6 km
  • Globally women account for the majority of people aged over 60 and over 80
  • Pregnant women in Africa are 180 times more likely to die than in Western Europe
  • 530,000 women die in pregnancy or childbirth each year
  • Of 1.2 billion people living in poverty worldwide, 70% are women
  • 80% of the world's 27 million refugees are women
  • Women own around only 1% of the world's land
  • AIDS sees women's life expectancy of 43 in Uganda and Zambia
  • Women are 2/3 of the 1 billion+ illiterate adults who have no access to basic education
  • Women do two-thirds of the world's work but receive only 10% of the world's income
  • Women's education is the most powerful predictor of lower fertility rates
  • One year out of college women earn 20% less than men and 10 years later 31% less

It is challenging to fight cultural, religious and economic barriers that affect the status of women, but like Canada's Famous Five demonstrated, committed individuals can lobby successfully for the equality, education, safety and health of women around the world.


  1. I went back and looked at the story about your grandmother. What a fascinating person. Hard to believe women were virtually without rights in the US and Canada less that 100 years ago.

  2. Anonymous2:57 pm GMT-4

    We women of the so-called developed countries have much to be grateful for - to live in places where having no access to healthcare, voting rights, etc. is today unthinkable! And we have so much to work towards for the rest of the women of the world. Thanks for such a thoughtful and challenging post!

  3. I love the monument. And I agree with you whole-heartedly. You can be a very strong woman without bashing the opposite sex.

  4. I have often heard of The Women's Rights Movement in the US but have never thought of it in Canada. It sounds like you have wonderful women heros there as well. It is hard for me to imagine ever going back to the old system. I am so glad my daughter doesn't even know what that was like! This is a fine post!

  5. Anonymous4:16 pm GMT-4

    Your grandmother must have been a courageous person! Happy International Women's Day!

  6. A great post Ruth. How nice to see a tribute to the women who fought so hard for equality in Canada.
    We've come a long way baby, and yet still have a long ways to go.

  7. Great Post Ruth,
    Your grandmother was quite a woman!
    Like Gaelyn said...we still have a long way to go.

  8. Awesome post! Love the monument and your grandmother sounded like an incredible woman.

    I agree with Deborah and am thankful I was born in a develped country where I can vote, work, drive, own property, etc. I always tell my kids if I lived in a third world country I would have been publicly executed by the age of 20 because I wouldn't be able to take the opression.

  9. Hard to believe, isn't it? That women were considered their husband's property up until the last century.
    Great post, Ruth.
    I love to read about women who help to change the world. Your grandma must have been quite a woman.
    Happy International Womens' Day to you too.

  10. Ruth,

    Shame on me! I didn't realize that today was International Woman's Day. I did know it was coming up but overlooked it.

    Yes, things have come a long way even since I was born. Women today are very lucky. When Grandma was married, women couldn't vote and am not sure if they could own property. We have so much while women in some countries still have no rights.

    Hope you have a pleasant week.

  11. Anonymous9:36 am GMT-4

    Each person goes through a process of learning to accept and reject parts of the self. To raise self- awareness of reasons to judge teaches one the power of conditioning. What is viewed as right and wrong, acceptable or unaccpetable, changes with time. And yet, a person can evolve to ralize right and wrong do not exist and every distinction created to promote separateness is an illusion distracting one from truth.

  12. What a great and informative post.

  13. Thanks to all who took the time to comment on this post and the one about my grandmother. Many of you are admirable women too who live life fully and share with others.

  14. Ruth, thank you so much for this post. We have come a long way but certainly not far enough. I have a saying that is with me always and it says. "if you think one person can not make a difference, you haven't spent a night in a tent with a mosquito." I have and that what motivates me to empower young women I work with!
    Thanks for sharing.

  15. Carolyn...I love your comment. I will never think of a lone mosquito at night the same way again!

  16. So much to look back on and appreciate so that we women today are seen AND heard. Wonderful post Ruth.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.