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International Women’s Day 2015

March 8, 2015

Every year March 8 is recognized in Saskatchewan and throughout the world as International Women’s Day. The United Nations has set this year’s theme as, “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It.”

Part of the picture in Saskatchewan is that over a third of the complaints that are brought to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission have links to the complainant’s sex or gender (e.g., pregnancy, marital status, and sexual orientation). In Saskatchewan, we know that there are also systemic sex and gender concerns. For example, women are less likely to find employment when compared to men. Moreover, research shows that Aboriginal women are less likely to find employment than Aboriginal men or non-Aboriginal men or women. Numbers do not, however, tell the whole story and, more to the point, underlying factors must be considered.

Aspects of our shared history, as well as formal and informal policy, have contributed to long-standing, pervasive, and significant inequity for Aboriginal women. As author Sylvia McAdam observes in her new book Nationhood Interrupted: Revitalizing nêhiyaw Legal Systems, “the effects are still being felt in the high incarceration rates of Indigenous people in federal and provincial institutions, poverty, murdered and missing Indigenous women, and high rates of suicide” (p. 80). For the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, promoting the rights of Aboriginal women is an important way to empower all women.

Empowering women in our province also requires two actions: the first is to agree to take steps to address the main social issues facing women in our society, and the second is to accept that we all have a personal stake in these issues. The recent mental health and addictions strategy, the bullying strategy, as well as the disability and poverty strategies, are examples of prioritizing and promoting social equity.

The personal stake we have comes from the responsibility inherent in our Canadian citizenship to be respectful to others. As Adrienne Clarkson wrote in Belonging: The Paradox of Citizenship, “A citizen who feels that she belongs has a true sense of equality that is not based on obligation or need but on generosity and the capacity to see and value the other” (p. 72). Respecting the interests, values, and beliefs of others is a requirement of that citizenship.

David Arnot, Chief Commissioner
Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission