What we can change marching forward

On Saturday, Jan. 20, a year after the first historic women’s march, women around the world returned to the streets toting new signs (“what Oprah said” and “I am a snowflake and together we are an avalanche”), with a similar message for their respective governments: There’s more work to be done in the fight for equal rights.

While the march originally started in protest of U.S. President Donald Trump and his sexist policies, which affected women’s rights to abortion clinics and cut funding from Planned Parenthood, the movement has evolved in Canada from one of solidarity with our neighbours south of the border to one that marches to the beat of its own demands from the Canadian government.

This past Saturday, the Ottawa chapter of the Women’s March gathered with allies on Parliament Hill and demanded attention to social issues affecting women like homelessness, the gender pay gap, trans rights, access to child care and health care for Indigenous women, systemic racism in the justice system, the Black Lives Matter movement, and violence against women, among others. The march was a call to harness privilege in a positive way by giving marginalized voices space to speak.

While this event was empowering to be a part of and definitely well intentioned, it still has a ways to go. For instance, there were a few slip-ups indicating colonial roots; yes, there was land acknowledgment, but an Indigenous ceremony was also referred to as a performance. Religious analogies (“get in line just like if you were in church”) were sprinkled throughout speeches and while there were speakers of various backgrounds, the march could benefit from having these people on their organizing committees.

I spoke to a woman who told me she remembered doing this in the 70s. She told me she never thought she would still have to be marching. It’s a telling sign that we have to continue to do this work generation after generation, but it’s not surprising.

The problem with an initiative that seeks to smooth out the imbalances within so many communities is that inevitably, some voices will get lost in the crowd.

We need measures to ensure that this is more than just a symbolic movement. The Ottawa Women’s March Chapter is already doing its part to help by offering workshops throughout the year. This is a group of women who volunteer their time to do this. We need more of that, and we need it from our government, our workplaces, and our universities.  

As students, it’s our responsibility to address these issues on campus. The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa already promotes events for women’s wellness through the women’s resource centre, like the self care workshop on Feb. 2, and while these events have their place, in the larger scheme of things, they’re not sufficient. What we need is for student groups to mobilize in a noticeable way. We need gender equity groups to be visible in public spaces, and workshops to be held by women in professional fields, and women who are minorities.

So far, the government seems to be listening. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23  addressed some of these concerns.

According to the CBC, Trudeau discussed #MeToo, Time’s Up, and the Women’s March in saying, “these movements tell us that we need to have a critical discussion on women’s rights, equality and the power dynamics of gender.”

This is definitely a start, but  until we see concrete change we must march on.