Today is International Women’s Day and as I continue to follow the ongoing developments in the Middle East and North Africa, I can’t help but contrast it to the reality here in Canada.
In the midst of a heated conversation, a friend of mine once reminded me that: “it isn’t good enough to compare Canada to the rest of the world and assume that because things are better here, our work is done.”
He was and still is right.Today is International Women’s Day. Some countries will briefly celebrate their achievements and progress on women’s issues. Others will look outward and rightly criticize the plight of women around the world. Some countries may ignore the day all together.Comparatively, the situation in Canada for women is much better than in most other countries in the world. Indeed, what I am about to mention is just one of the many realities that I could have chosen to highlight. Nonetheless, I believe this one issue speaks to the current day passive attitudes of Canadians (and others) in confronting an injustice that continues to grow.
It really is an incredible sight - women all over the Middle East and in North Africa continue to fight for freedom, dignity and democracy right before our eyes. We are all witnessing it. These women, stemming from diverse economic and social backgrounds, are protesting and organizing in near unison. For them, age, religion and class are often secondary identities. Together, they are causing ripples of change in a region of the world that so often ignores or severely punishes women for speaking up against unforgiving forms of control. These Arab and Muslim women - whose images are being broadcast all over the world - are sometimes veiled, some are clothed head-to-toe in burqas and some are even wearing make-up and clothing that is less foreign to the Western eye. Despite these variances, these fearless women are quickly becoming the true face of transformation in a troubled region.
The Reality in the West
As the world celebrates International Women’s Day today, perhaps it would be helpful for modern, democratic, and (supposedly) open societies to take a long look in the mirror.Various jurisdictions, scholars and politicians in the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, and even in Canada are successfully promoting ideas that would limit Muslim women’s rights within our own borders. These limitations include: restricting women from wearing religious symbols (such as the veil or burqa) in public, denying voting rights to veiled women, or denying government services such as healthcare, childcare and education.In this regard, fear and ignorance have trumped evidence and reality when it comes to the making of legislation in various democracies around the world. This issue is clearly contentious and emotional, and many have and will continue to disagree with my point of view. However, in my opinion, citizens of all stripes and nationalities are sitting idly by as hate and injustice towards (Muslim) women is being legislated, validated and cemented into law. My question is this: why is it that “over there” we support and applaud the women in burqas literally risking their lives for democracy and a better way forward; yet, in Canada (and across the West), we hardly flinch when conservative forces are attempting to deny fundamental rights to our own women?