Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Celebrating Girls and Women

As we approach International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8, it’s important to reflect on the issues facing women and girls in our communities and around the world. In 2013, there are still some who might question the importance of paying tribute to women through a global event such as IWD.

In a remarkably short period of time, six Canadian provinces and territories, representing over 85 per cent of the Canadian population, are now governed by women premiers. Globally, there are more female heads of state than at any time in history. In university classrooms across Canada, young women now make up the majority of undergraduate students and have pulled ahead in gaining admission to professional programs such as medicine and law.

But such advances mask a larger climate of gender inequality. Women still remain woefully underrepresented in corporate boardrooms and in parliaments across Canada and the globe. Violence against girls and women in the home, in the workplace, and in communities, remains unacceptably high.

The lives of many murdered and missing Aboriginal women from across Canada in the last few decades have been largely ignored by mainstream media. Young girls and women are still entering academic programs in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields at levels far below their numbers in others. In the media, in schools, and in the broader culture, young women and girls remain inundated with contradictory messages about their value and about what it means to be a woman in 2013.

Globally, the situation remains concerning. While Saudi Arabia only recently welcomed women to its governing Shura Council, women in that country are still banned from driving and are forbidden from holding high political office. Recently, a vicious assault on a Delhi city bus drew condemnation from around the world and shone a light on the often brutal realities for women in contemporary India. These are just two alarming examples of the perceived value of girls and women in some societies.

Addressing the difficulties faced by women and girls is a collective responsibility. At the Mount, we are grateful for the historical example of the Sisters of Charity and of our many faculty, staff, students and alumnae who continue to work for the betterment of girls and young women in our communities and around the world. We are also eager to see what’s in store at this year’s Girls’ Conference, an annual event which seeks to create a sense of community while addressing tangible solutions to challenges facing girls and women.

We are inspired by faculty like Dr. Tamara Franz-Odendaal, NSERC Atlantic Chair for Women in Science and Engineering, who connects girls across the Atlantic provinces with mentors and positive role models in the science and engineering fields. We give thanks for the many pioneers who have paved the way for new generations – women like the late Dr. Daurene Lewis, a trailblazer in the African Nova Scotian community, whose work at the Mount’s Centre for Women in Business equipped many female entrepreneurs with the skills and networks they needed to thrive.

Finally, we look forward to the future, and to breaking ground on the new Margaret Norrie McCain Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Research. The McCain Centre is the first university academic building in Canada dedicated entirely to honouring women. It will house many of the Mount’s signature programs, including our recently renamed Alexa McDonough Institute for Women, Gender and Social Justice. It will also feature the Riva Spatz Women’s Wall of Honour, a unique tribute to women from all walks of life – our mothers and daughters, our sisters and friends.

This March 8, International Women’s Day, please join me in celebrating and honouring the diverse experiences of women and girls.

Until next time,


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