Journalist and Human Rights Advocate



Sexism is a shared burden for women around the globe, the Toronto Star

I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks, and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God designed us to occupy.”

These words were first uttered by American abolitionist and suffragette Sarah Moore Grimké in 1837. They were revived again by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the early days of her legal career as she set out to dismantle systemic gender discrimination in America.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s “legacy has taken on a new dimension in Trump’s America, where women’s rights are again under threat,” writes Amira Elghawaby  (REBECCA GIBIAN / AP)

Ginsburg’s legacy has taken on a new dimension in Trump’s America, where women’s rights are again under threat.

“Trump and his evangelical backers are united by a common desire to constrain the behavior of women,” writes Peter Beinart in a troubling article in last month’s Atlantic. Beinart suggests authoritarianism is on the rise as a direct reaction to women’s emancipation: “. . . the more empowered women become, the more right-wing autocrats depict that empowerment as an assault on the natural political order.”

Women’s struggles continue to play out on the international stage, most recently with the case of Rahaf Mohammed, now hopefully safe on Canadian soil. The young woman had to publicly defy her own family to escape a society in which patriarchy is woven tightly into the fabric of everyday life, despicably justified in the name of Islam.

This despite the fact Islam recognized women as full legal persons over 1,000 years before European women would win that recognition in Western law.

That far too many communities and governments have backslid from this revolutionary history is the subject of considerable feminist Muslim scholarship, often invisible to Western audiences. “[I]t is left to those people thought not to exist — Muslim women who fight sexism — to rewrite those scenarios and reclaim our identities,” points out Susan Carland, author of Fighting Hislam: Women, Faith and Sexism.

What is also true is that gender struggles continue to exist within and beyond a variety of religious traditions. A group of female leaders representing Jewish, Christian, Indigenous, and Muslim traditions reflected on their shared struggles during a panel at the Parliament of World Religions in Toronto held late last year. “There is an inside, outside challenge,” remarked Ottawa Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton, acknowledging that some women are able to work within their own faith communities to challenge the patriarchal status quo, while others simply decide to fight for women’s rights outside of religious frameworks altogether.

These experiences underscore how challenging sexism is a shared burden, crossing religious, cultural, and social lines.

Here in Canada, there is a gender pay gap that will take 100 years to close, according to the World Economic Forum. Many women struggle to find adequate and affordable child care to make it easier to participate in the workplace. We also continue to lack adequate representation at almost all levels of leadership, from corporate boards to the halls of power, and everywhere in between.

When it comes to racialized and Indigenous women, the situation is often more stark. Consider recent reports of the sterilization of Indigenous women, without free and informed consent. Indigenous women have historically been subjected to colonial laws that have aimed to limit or erase their presence and power. Even those who manage to overcome barriers to education and employment will still earn less than other non-racialized women.

Throughout the country, violence against women continues to wreak havoc on families; a woman is killed at the hands of her partner every six days, according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation. Canadian shelters are full of those seeking to escape abuse; workplace policies to support victims of violence are only just catching up. Advocates have called for a national action plan to address these issues.

Beyond the celebratory breakfasts, brunches, and galas, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on all that remains to be done to achieve women’s full equality — and together, recommit to making it happen.

Amira Elghawaby