By Lisa Marie Williams and Aziza Mahamoud
International Women’s Day marks a time for everyone, not just the ‘fairer’ sex, to reflect on the accomplishments we have made in creating a more equitable society. Women are leaders in the home, community and even the global arena. Gone are the days when we sat silently in the shadows with no hope for tomorrow while our male counterparts held the keys to opportunity and prosperity. Though there is much to celebrate, we would be remiss in glossing over the challenges ahead.
As we forge ahead on the road to change, let us take a moment to think about the women who are not with us and why they are not with us on this journey. International Women’s Day falls on the heels of Black History Month, a measly seven days a part. Labelling this a coincidence or convenience merely degrades the power of this connection. As such, we acknowledge and honour the plight of racialized women who struggle to succeed in a world that often does not reflect their beauty and power in positions of influence.
Many racialized women venture into the world, empowered by a vision, but alone. Follow in the footsteps of successful women – we are told. But that trek is considerably harder and more exhausting when those we are told to emulate wear a different size. While we honour the accomplishments of women like Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Toronto Region Board of Trade CEO Carol Wilding, and Sick Kids Hospital CEO Mary Jo Haddad, it is important that, on a day like today, we remind ourselves of the unsettling prejudices, gaps and bottlenecks that still exist in our society which disproportionately affect racialized women. The onus is on us as women to not shy away from having this critical conversation and posing the uncomfortable questions. For example, what is the face of success for a woman in our society today? How much longer will some women have to disguise their true identities to fit the perceived image of a successful woman in mainstream society in order to be seen, heard, and maybe accepted? How long will it be until we see racialized women advancing at a rate comparable to non-racialized women, say in the workforce?
A growing body of research demonstrates the inequities women face in the workforce. Canadian women still earn less than their male counterparts. Research shows that the effects are compounded when gender intersects with race, further widening the gap. Findings from our Canada’s Colour Coded Labour Market report highlights that racialized women earned 88.2 cents for every dollar a non-racialized woman earned, and 55.6 cents for every dollar a non-racialized man earned. The findings further demonstrate the gaps in unemployment rates, stating a 34% higher unemployment rate for racialized women compared with non-racialized women. Racialized women continue facing a glass ceiling not only in earnings, but also in career advancement. A large-scale study of career advancement indicated that on average white men were 4.5% more likely to receive promotions than white women, and 16.1% more likely than minority women. This is but one example where striking differentials exist, however, there are unfortunately many more sectors and aspects of society where racialized women are not faring as well as their non-racialized women counterparts.
In a city where young, Black men are increasingly swallowed by the pull of crime and violence, and subsequently branded miscreants by the justice system, the fate of racialized women is often suspended. There is little room for these young women to dream, much less succeed or reach their potential, when most of our fear and hope are tied up in the future of our sons. What a loss for those of us who risked a perilous journey to this wonderful country to allow our children, despite their gender, to pursue those very dreams.
How can we, as a democratic and just society, facilitate enabling pathways to better health, well-being and future for all the women who have been left behind? Let the lives of women like Maytree Foundation President Ratna Omidvar and Former Governor-General Michaelle Jean be the wake-up call for all of us to celebrate this great day for humanity, with the intention of working harder and planning ahead for the day when women, of all colours, creeds and cultures, can truly say it’s a new day.