International Womens Day

Let’s Recommit to Equity this International Women’s Day

by Erin Seeley

Each year on March 8, we mark International Women’s Day. As a woman, mother, sister, daughter and CEO of YWCA Metro Vancouver, an organization that is dedicated every day to advancing gender equity, women’s rights are never far from my mind. I use this day to take stock of where we are globally and locally, and these days especially, the landscape for women’s rights hits me with an equal mix of worry and hope.  

Around the world, women are still faced with oppression and continue to fight against it. However, in many ways we are regressing and the situation is dire.   

In the United States, women’s bodies have been politicized to the point where autonomy has disappeared – in 13 states, access to abortion is illegal with no exceptions for rape or incest. In many places where reproductive rights still remain intact, they are at risk. It is almost unbelievable that women are not permitted to act on what they know to be best for themselves.  

In Afghanistan, the Taliban cruelly strip women and girls of their access to education, careers, and general freedoms to live a life without.   

In Iran, women continue to lead waves of protests after Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman visiting Tehran, was arrested, beaten and later died because of an inadequately placed hijab. These same women (and men) are risking their lives, being detained and assaulted as they continue to fight for their freedoms; the women journalists who broke the story are in jail and protesters face execution as a way to terrorize the public into submission.  

If these examples (and there are more) put a knot in your chest, you are not alone. But if we think that these challenges are for other people in other places, we must open our eyes to the often-violent realities facing women and girls in our region and across Canada, especially Indigenous women, girls, Two-Spirit and trans people.  

In Canada, women continue to face high levels of intimate partner violence, abuse through the court systems, sexual assault, hidden homelessness and other systems of oppression. Gender-based violence continues to be a public health emergency that kills a woman every other day, and in 2022, at least 23 women were killed in BC.   

Women, especially Indigenous women and girls, continue to go missing, leaving families and friends devasted by the lack of answers and the little support they receive for finding their sisters and daughters, and lack of action to see justice served if the worst has happened.  

Despite years-long inquiries, reports, recommendations and roadmaps, governments have done frustratingly little to truly make life safer for Indigenous women, girls, Two-Spirit people and trans people. The federal government continues to get failing grades on its lack of progress acting on the Calls for Justice from the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls for the staggering rates of violence that persist.  

It is exhausting and frustrating to have to continue to fight – through advocacy, protests, community building and whatever platform we can find – for rights that should be granted and protected without question. It shouldn’t be a discussion that we are all granted rights to safety, autonomy and equal opportunities. But fight we must because if we don’t, we will lose what progress we have made.  

But there is hope. For every fallen sister and for every threat and painful cut, there is hope.   

As an organization that has advocated for gender equity for over 125 years by empowering women and their families, the programs offered by the YWCA are more in demand than ever. I see hope burning bright in the women we serve every day, who despite seemingly insurmountable odds, pursue their dreams and goals, determined to create bright futures for their children. I have hope for the forthcoming provincial Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence; that there will be meaningful action, long-term investments and open dialogue with those who have lived experience. I see hope in the ways that organizations and communities, and men and women, are working together to support our sisters here and abroad. Achieving gender equity cannot be women’s work alone; more than ever, we need allies in men who are setting examples for the next generation.  

So, on this International Women’s Day, I choose to celebrate the wins, mourn the losses and recommit to a bold vision of a just and equitable world for women and girls everywhere.  

- Erin Seeley, CEO YWCA Metro Vancouver