By Jennifer Kwan
Outside the University of Toronto’s Convocation Hall, 17-year-old Rae-Jeanne Watts stands, clad in a sweatshirt, jeans and platform sneakers. She looks like she could be hanging out at a mall or crashing in coins for tokens at Playdium, but Watts has other things in mind.
She smiles shyly, giggles and admits that although she’ll gossip with friends, just like any other teen, this Saturday she’s got more important things on her mind—speaking at the Women’s March 2000 to support the end of violence against women.
“We’ll rise up,” Watts says. “As long as youth like me can talk to other youth and say, ‘Look, this is our future, we’ve got to give government a run for their money.”
Convocation Hall begins to fill up. In 15 minutes, the celebration will begin.
In 1977, the United Nations declared March 8 International Women’s Day.
Now that the curtain has been lifted on the 21st century, the “f” word has a new meaning. People seem less afraid of feminism, ready to admit it’s not about man-hating but human rights. Women are carving a path for themselves in the millennium, a global voice that screams the coming century will be one of international feminist sisterhood.
This isn’t as easy as it seems. There have been achievements, but while some women have benefited from them, many others have been forgotten.
“We are very, very clear that last century was certainly not a woman’s century,” Joan Grant-Cummings, president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, told a roaring crowd at the Women’s Day rally.
“We have to be young and restless. And we won’t stop until all women have human rights.”
Sure, women gained the right to vote and the right to be considered “persons.” Pay equity has been established to make work a fairer place. Birth Control has given women control over their bodies.
“You’d think these were basic rights to ask for, but the last 100 years have shown they’re not. Fewer women hold top executive positions than men. Working conditions are still poor for women around the world. Every day there are dowry murders, honour killings, female genital mutilations and the multi-billion dollar trafficking of women. And up to half of all women suffer domestic violence.
At first glance, the changes have been positive. But in reality, the advancement of women is mediocre. Even though “the wife” has become “the partner” in many politically correct circles, much remains to be done.
Last year, thousands of men and women from around the world gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York to celebrate the last International Women’s Day of the 20th century. They were told violence against women knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth, and that each of them must accept responsibility for stamping out gender-based violence.
Many continue to shrug off the issue in indifference. Much like a girl who stands on the sidewalk as last Saturday’s Women’s March 2000 makes its way down King’s College Road to Metro Hall. Turning to her friend, the girl says, “Yeah, yeah—they’re complaining about the injustices of the capitalist system.”
At Metro Hall, people sift through brochures and flyers as they pass information booths. Priya Balakrishnan, a third-year University of Toronto human biology and bioethics student, speaks at one of the booths. The member of the World Organization of World Tamil Movement tells of the atrocities against Tamil women in Sri Lanka.
“People listen, they’re attentive and that’s been amazing,” Balakrishnan says. “But at the end of the day, you’re tired. And most of the time you feel like nothing’s happened.”