The theme of International Women’s Day this year is #EachforEqual. It highlights the strength that comes when individuals with different lived experiences come together for a greater purpose. When we all work together, we can achieve anything.
As senators, we are particularly privileged because we hold some power. As women, we draw on our own experiences to inform how we use that power and privilege to achieve the goal of equality and represent women in Parliament. Decisions made without the input, support, and leadership of women are deficient; simply having a seat at the table does not suffice. This is the crux of our work — women of all backgrounds must be involved in decision-making at the highest levels.
We are proud to represent women in the Senate — an institution that boasts 48 female senators out of its current membership of 98. Indeed, many of us play senior roles; about half of the leadership of Senate groups and caucuses is female.
We try to represent and empower women outside of Canada as well. As founding members of the Canadian Association of Feminist Parliamentarians, our local and international activities are guided by intersectional feminist values and global perspectives.
Despite the gains of the past decades, the struggle for equality continues. Parliamentarians have a responsibility to bring awareness to intersectional women’s issues in the Senate and the House of Commons. Women’s issues are community issues. Women’s issues are parliamentarians’ issues.
As senators, we strongly advocate to ensure recognition of women’s issues on Parliament Hill. We must engage women multilaterally, as we center the experiences and voices of diverse, intersectional women in our communities. We collectively have a role to enact this year’s theme for International Women’s Day — Each for Equal — by building a legacy with the next generation of parliamentarians, representational of the intersectional women we know make our communities strong. We need focused commitments to collectively engage in concrete actions to do better as we work towards gender equality.
This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, the most ambitious women’s rights framework to date. To further its implementation and build on this work, the United Nation’s Generation Equality campaign is demanding action on key equity-focused areas such as pay equity, sexual harassment and gender-based violence, as well as equal participation in political life and in all decision-making processes.
Strategies to achieve these goals will be discussed in Paris this July at the Generation Equality Forum. The forum will provide an exciting opportunity for multilateral engagement on issues that affect women around the world. Members of the Canadian Association of Feminist Parliamentarians will be supporting the civil society call for inclusion and recognition of the Women, Peace and Security agenda in these advocacy spaces. We look forward to pursuing these strategies with our global counterparts.
Progress is undeniable, and should be celebrated, but unconscious bias remains a difficult obstacle to overcome, particularly regarding sexual violence. Women need to be seen as equal to men in the minds of all. It is this profound change in mentality that is most difficult.
#EachforEqual means that we must all strive to understand the individual experiences women face so we can collectively work toward genuine equality. On this International Women’s Day, it is our hope that all parliamentarians and Canadians take the opportunity to reflect upon the actions they can take to support this goal.
Senators Wanda Thomas Bernard, Marilou McPhedran and Julie Miville-Dechêne are members of the Canadian Association of Feminist Parliamentarians. They represent, respectively, Nova Scotia (East Preston), Manitoba and Quebec (Inkerman) in the Senate.