"The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights." - Gloria Steinem
In the lead up to International Woman’s Day 2019, I invited Actua’s Youth Council for a casual dinner and meaningful conversation. Together we shared personal stories and thoughts related to International Women’s Day with the goal of shining light on the realities of feminism, and quest for gender parity through the lens of young Canadians.
Actua’s Youth Council, a group of students ages 14-19, provide Actua and its partners with their perspectives on how to best engage and inspire youth in STEM. This valued youth voice is incorporated in the design and delivery of Actua’s programs across Canada, ensuring meaningful and impactful experiences for all participants.
Here’s a look at the thought-provoking conversation I had with council members.
Jennifer: I am so happy to have all of you around this table tonight. I would love to hear some of your general thoughts about International Women’s Day?
Amanda: I think International Woman’s Day is a time to examine how far we have come as the inferior gender throughout history, how we are developing to become equal members of society and how far we still have to go.
Anya: For me International Women’s Day connects straight to my Russian culture. We believe that this day is very important and all about showing appreciation for the hard work women do and embracing the women in your lives who contributed to your upbringing.
Abigail: I have found it disappointing that general society tends to overlook International Women’s Day. Women have so much potential and are still put down so often.
Erin: My first exposure to International Women’s Day was through a recent email from Actua. I did some research and realized how little I actually hear about it. To me, the day is about recognizing the work that has been done to allow us to be more present and valued and the significant work yet to be accomplished.
Chanel: My mother is a female entrepreneur who makes sure to speak about what the day means to her and what it can mean to me. It is an opportunity to acknowledge that we, one half of the population, have proudly made our mark in business and other fields despite it not always being talked about.
Beatrice: To me, International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to find ways to better engage women in conversations about pursuing education and careers in STEM.
Ganaaboute: To gain a better understanding of my peers views on International Women’s Day, I asked my teachers for ten minutes to canvas their classes about it. One of the things that stood out for me was one student wondering if we could perhaps think about relearning history through a female perspective in order to better understand what women have contributed.
Zsuzsika: We talk a lot about International Women’s Day in my feminist club at school, we put up posters and try to talk to as many people as possible. To me it is a reminder that we as women need to keep going no matter what and really believe in ourselves.
Jennifer: Have you ever seen or experienced push-back about IWD?
Abigail: Sometimes I feel like there is negative stigma around celebrating feminism. I wonder if it is thought to be controversial and therefore unwanted in schools.
Erin: I run a club for events and awareness and feel pushback from my own student council, peer group and on social media. I feel like we need to change the thinking so that people understand that feminism is about equality.
Zsuzsika: I think that sometimes people confuse feminism with extremism. Teaching a better understanding of the word and what it actually means would really help our efforts at school.
Madeline: Feminism is often negatively depicted on social media. I wish we had more awareness events in school about the amazing things women are doing right now, even during lunchtime, because girls are suffering.
Ganaaboute: I find it disturbing that so many people say that the women’s movement is over, that equality has been achieved and that we need to get over it. There needs to be education that issues like these don't just end and that there is always going to be a struggle.
Jennifer: Do you think that young people are aware of the data demonstrating lack of equality issues in Canada such as women making 78 cents for every dollar that a man makes?
Ganaaboute: I think the vast majority of people are unaware of that statistic and those that are, especially if they are men, claim that these findings are false or measured inaccurately.
Amanda: Three boys in my American History class did a feminism project and explained that there isn’t really a gender pay gap because women actively seek jobs that pay less and have less hours to spend more time with their families. They stated that women have created this pay gap and are now complaining about it.
Jennifer: Do you feel safe identifying yourself as a feminist? Would you wear a feminist shirt or share feminist memes on social media?
Amanda: The general environment can be a bit tough. Last year when we held an International Women’s Day awareness campaign, boys complained that there wasn’t an International Men’s Day. Whenever toxic masculinity comes up men don't want to talk about it and shut you down. I was trying to debate the recent Gillette advertisement with a boy in my media studies class, but he just kept repeating the word, “No” while I was speaking, and the teacher brushed it off.
Abigail: I definitely try to speak up when I hear someone putting women down. I have heard a lot of it and am not afraid to stand up and voice my opinion.
Ganaaboute: Standing up for basic human rights and equality is not a political issue. I am also aware that having the privilege of being male, and calling myself a feminist, protects me from the physical threats or dangers that women might experience doing the same.
Jennifer: What women do you look up to?
Zsuzsika: My mom is an entrepreneur and fully in charge of a business that she loves. She is a Boss Lady, great role model and supports me in feminism. I also really appreciate celebrities who use their voices to support and encourage women.
Beatrice: I admire my girlfriends and other women also studying and pursuing careers in engineering.
Erin: I am grateful to Actua. The voice of Melinda Gates is one that I have also heard and connected with. She uses her influence to raise awareness for women’s rights and makes me feel supported in my pursuits.
Abigail: My science teacher Ms. Dewar not only teaches biology, chemistry and physics but helps all of us as much as she can. I also feel inspired by Stephen Hawking’s ability to face and overcome the challenges and criticism he faced on his journey to achieving excellence in science.
Madeline: I look up to my mom who was able to provide for me as a single parent and make my life such a happy one. I am also so impressed whenever I hear Michelle Obama speak and her focus on the next generation.
Anya: The women in my family have all been scientists and I am grateful for a start in life which allowed me to see so much possibility from within my own family. I am also inspired by the people in this room that are vocal and voice their opinions about what they believe in. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is also so vocal and has pushed for so much in a short period of time.
Ganaaboute: I would choose Lois an elder from Fort Providence (NWT) who has devoted the last thirty years to sobriety and also to restoring Indigenous culture. The other people I will celebrate is anyone who identifies a problem and devotes their life to making positive change.