OP-ED: International Women’s Day Focuses on Gender Equality and Women in Leadership

NOTE: The following is an op-ed by Joanne Bernard, Minister Responsible for the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women Act about International Women’s Day, Wednesday, March 8.

I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone an impactful and engaged International Women’s Day! It is a time to celebrate our achievements and to take stock of our progress for women and girls in Nova Scotia.

This year’s theme, #equality matters, is relevant to all Nova Scotians. Equality between women and men most certainly does matter. In fact, it is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We have made great strides in achieving equality, such as in women’s advancements in education and workforce participation, yet challenges remain.

A community where women are safe and economically secure is a community that is thriving. Women and girls make up 51 per cent Nova Scotia’s population. Women are more likely to earn the lowest wages, have precarious employment and are at the highest risk of violent victimization throughout their lives. Addressing these challenges is a collective effort that all Nova Scotians should be committed to.

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate women in leadership. Looking back, our history is rich with examples of women leaders who have made a difference in achieving equality. One of these women is Viola Desmond, a business woman and community leader who stood up for her rights and changed history. She is the first Canadian woman to be featured on our currency. You can read more of Viola Desmond’s story in The Nova Scotia Nine, http://women.gov.ns.ca/ns9, a wonderful volume reflecting through art and text on nine impressive women from our province’s history.

There are a number of events here and across the country to mark International Women’s Day.

I am honoured to participate in the National Indigenous Women’s Summit in Toronto with indigenous women leaders from across Canada. I am joined at this important national gathering by 11 strong Mi’kmaq women who care deeply about opportunities for indigenous women in Nova Scotia.

Eleven young women from across the province are representing their communities at the Daughters of the Vote National Leadership Summit on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. These young women leaders are marking the historic achievement of women’s enfranchisement in Canada.

We are also celebrating women’s advancement in the trades and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, known as the STEM fields, at the Nova Scotia Community College, Waterfront Campus. This International Women’s Day event will showcase the Women Innovating in Nova Scotia bursary and a new series of portraits, The Women of STEM, by Nova Scotia artist Joanne Napier. For more information, go to http://women.gov.ns.ca/content/iwd-wins-bursary-and-art-exhibit.

It is particularly important to acknowledge the impact of Nova Scotia’s first ever Sexual Violence Strategy. Freedom from violence is a human right. Community leaders across the province are working very hard to prevent sexual violence and to build knowledge, especially around how we understand consent to sexual activity. All Nova Scotians, especially those in positions of influence, need to understand the devastating impact of sexual violence and the right of persons to freely consent.

I believe survivors, and I am committed to making a difference in the prevention of violence against women and girls in all its forms. To learn more about the awareness campaign, go to https://breakthesilencens.ca/.

Our province needs the talents of everyone – women, men, girls and boys – to truly reach its full potential. Gender stereotypes hold us back. This International Women’s Day, I challenge all Nova Scotians to make a commitment to gender equality and to show that #equality matters in our families, workplaces and communities.