How to build on a decade of women’s rage

OPINION: Women got fed up and made change over the past 10 years. So how can we keep fighting for a better and more equitable world in the next decade?
By Lauren McKeon - Published on Jan 07, 2020
People arrive at Queen's Park after walking from Nathan Phillips Square for the Toronto Women's March on January 19, 2019. (Tijana Martin/CP) 

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The past decade was not without its feminist wins. There were the headline-dominating, world-shaking events, including: the rise and seemingly unstoppable momentum of #MeToo, the Women’s March on Washington and its hundreds of sister protests, and, here in Canada, the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and an official acknowledgment of genocide. That’s not to forget the decade’s other hugely influential movements, many of which intersected with women’s rights: Idle No More, Black Lives Matter, and the Global Climate Strike.

On a smaller scale, the 2010s marked Canada’s first openly gay premier (Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne, in 2013), Canada’s first gender-parity cabinet (in 2015), and a rise in the number of female MPs. Policy advanced, too: the country prioritized a gender-balanced budget and committed to more resources for victims of sexual violence, and several provinces, including Ontario, enacted paid domestic leave for survivors of domestic violence.

If anything defined the past decade in women’s rights, though, it was anger. Righteous, fed-up, change-making anger. Many people decided enough; many decided to act — some of them for the first time. This furious desire for change has set the stage for another 10 years of progress, if we want. If we can.

Already this year, the Harvey Weinstein trial is underway, and with it come opportunities to imagine what’s next for #MeToo. There’s also the upcoming United States federal election, the effects of which will reverberate in Canada. And, at home, Justin Trudeau will be defining his second term as the Conservative party defines its future.

It is nearly impossible for one person to say where we should go next — or rather, it’s impossible to stop listing possible next steps; there’s so much left to do before we achieve full economic, social, and bodily equality. Depending on the news cycle, I’m just as easily lost in despair over the slowness of change as I am in hopes for the next decade. There is so much opportunity for a more equitable, more prosperous world. But where and how do you even start?

As it turns out, there is a blueprint. The United Nations has set an ambitious goal to achieve global gender equality by 2030. Number five on its list of 17 “sustainable development goals” for a better world includes nine targets for measuring total gender equality. Among them are guaranteed access to sexual and reproductive health, a push to recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work, and greater opportunities to participate and lead in political, economic, and public life.

Globally, we have a long way to go if we want to reach equality in 10 years, according to the UN’s 2019 progress report. Worldwide, only one in four parliamentary seats is held by a woman. In 2017, nearly 300,000 women died from complications arising from pregnancy or childbirth. Nearly 20 per cent of women and girls aged 15 to 49 experienced physical or sexual violence in the 12 months preceding the report’s release.

The dismal numbers go on and on — but there are small bits of silver lining. While representation in parliaments around the world is still low, the number has risen 19 per cent since 2010. The prevalence of female genital mutilation is declining, and so, too, are rates of childhood marriage. Things are getting better in many areas, albeit at an agonizingly slow pace.

Still, while Canada is doing better than many countries — including the U.S. — it still has a lot of work to do. For example, the UN also measures worldwide access to education, as well as countries’ commitment to ratifying education rights within their constitutions. Last year, UNESCO released an online interactive atlas that allows users to easily track the progress of 196 countries. Canada has a poor score, because, as the UN notes, our charter “does not enshrine the right to education.” Nor has Canada signed the UNESCO Convention Against Discrimination in Education. If we’re looking to make some resolutions for the coming decade, this might be a good place to start.

But we need more than that. I can’t help but think of all the things I want — things that are harder to measure. I want a world in which all genders feel safe, in which all voices are valued, in which young girls won’t grow up to find their ambitions curtailed by sexism. I want so much. And, yet, what better time to dream of a better world than the start of a new decade?

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