In Canada, working conditions for women have improved over the span of my working years. There’s still room for improvement, but in my birthday month, I am remembering how far we’ve come.
I was first a single working woman in the 1970s and it was not pretty. The pressure to defer to men at work was blatant. The micro-aggressions that we see today are the shadows of those years.
It’s embarrassing to recall what we needed to do to “manage” our male bosses. To avoid sexual assault, we often had to run faster than our bosses. I mastered managing my bosses with humour and sarcasm. A few of my single friends bought and wore wedding rings to draw clear boundaries at work.
When I had my children in the 1980s, women received partial pay for seventeen weeks of maternity leave. Companies did not top up their pay. Today, women get a year of maternity leave with an optional extension and the time can be split with the other parent.
On the home front, if a dad left his family, the courts might decree that he needed to pay child support, but this decision was not enforced. If Dads decided not to pay, there was no fair recourse. If Mom spent money and energy to take the case back to court, the payments owed would be adjusted to a small percentage of what was decided in the earlier court. Meanwhile, the Mom needed to care, shop and cook for their children.
I’m grateful to the men and women who could see that this needed to be changed and they each fought hard for our new laws that protect women and other marginalized groups. The current challenge is to let people know that they are safe to speak up when they face new barriers. We are learning more about this every day. COVID has offered us more time to recognize, reflect and better understand the challenges of systemic racism. Yet, there are still people who don’t understand what that looks like. There are more people who don’t understand what disability discrimination looks like and why it’s so important. Yes, there’s a long way to go.
Let’s take a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come in our own journey and stay curious about how we can learn more to better understand and share our knowledge with others. Listen and believe the stories from people with lived experience in sexism, racism and living with disabilities.
Speak up when we recognize injustices. Take action steps to change our own behaviours and speak out, even if we don’t feel we have the power to make change. In the Dr. Seuss book, ‘Horton Hears a Who’, the refrain is “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Horton (an elephant) endures harassment to care for and ensure the safety of the Whos, who represent the insignificant. Remember, elephant herds are always led by older females. Let’s lead the way, friends!