March 8 was International Women’s Day (IWD), a day to celebrate the incredible accomplishments of women around the world.
While over 220 community members joined us at the Women’s Centre to celebrate IWD, others, like Katie , celebrated in their own unique ways.
Katie is a volunteer member of Women’s Centre’s Social Policy Committee, and recently took a leave of absence from her job in Calgary to volunteer for eight months with a women’s organization in Swaziland called the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA). Katie marked IWD by sharing an update with us about her experiences in Swaziland so far, recognizing the work that still needs to be done to advance gender equity at home and around the world.
Katie’s Notes From The Field – Working For Change In Swaziland
Conversations around women’s rights, sexual harassment and gender-based violence (GBV) have come to dominate our newsrooms, Twitter feeds, legislatures and offices.
All around the world inspiring work is happening in the fight for women’s rights and gender equity. The problem is that it is still a fight.
We are still trying to convince people that women’s rights are human rights, that women deserve to live in safe homes and communities, that women should be compensated equally for our work and that our justice systems should be able to effectively respond to GBV. Even here in Canada, violence against Indigenous women and girls is an issue that has not received the attention it deserves for quite awhile.
This fight can sometimes feel crushing and all-consuming, as the demand to respond and act in the name of gender equity and diversity appears limitless.
But not acting is not an option. Work to improve lives and defend human rights is getting done, with women at the forefront.
Right now, I am witnessing first-hand women’s tireless efforts in demanding change from their government while battling not only a political system that is stacked against them, but a pervasive culture of silence and lack of consequences for actions.
Fighting Against Gender-Based Violence in Swaziland
Swaziland, a tiny country tucked between South Africa and Mozambique, has one of the highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence in the world. There are few laws that protect women and girls from GBV and sexual assault. A Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill is currently before a committee of government officials, however, local NGOs have been advocating to make it into a law for over 12 years.
The light in this darkness are the women who diligently serve the SWAGAA. They have developed two well-respected programs that work with school-aged children and young adults on how to identify and understand different types of abuse, and report it. They offer counselling services for people who have experienced gender-based violence and they actively engage with government representatives. They play an important part in the fight against GBV but their contributions often go unrecognized.
Though the situation in Swaziland represents an extreme example of gender inequality, many of the issues women and girls encounter here are the same ones we face in Canada. Economic opportunities, legislation and judicial reform, access to safe housing, childcare, education and social services, as well as systemic change to both public and private institutions so that women can access leadership roles are needed to ensure women and girls from all backgrounds can reach true equality.
Why is International Women’s Day More Important Than Ever?
International Women’s Day is always a special day for us to reflect on the incredible women who have impacted our lives and made significant steps towards gender equality and equity.
There are growing pressures, both in Canada and globally, that may act to undermine the progress we’ve made toward a system that works in the interest of both men and women. Rights and freedoms are fragile, so we must work even harder to safeguard them.
This International Women’s Day is about reaffirming our responsibility – both as women and as men – to keep fighting for gender equity, equality, diversity, women’s rights, human rights, respect and dignity. Because in the long run, it benefits us all.
Finally, it’s an opportunity to thank the women who work for this vibrant future, every day. So, thank you, to all the staff and volunteers at the Women’s Centre of Calgary and the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse for doing what you do.