By Yvonne Sam
Social and Political Commentator
March 8, annually ushers in the moment to celebrate the contributions of women and the revitalization of efforts in achieving gender equality—both in Canada and other parts of the globe. It is a day when — without regard to divisions, whether it be national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political — women are recognized for their achievements.
While there appears to be some evident controversy on what exactly established the first Women’s Day, there is one agreement, historically at any rate, that it was really socialist. According to the United Nations, the first National Women’s Day occurred in the United States on February 28, 1909, organized by the Socialist Party of America to honor the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York. www.un.org/en/events/womensday/history.shtml
In 1910, the concept for an international Women’s Day was taken up in Copenhagen by the Socialist International and was first celebrated in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 19, 1911. People marched to demonstrate support for women’s suffrage and to cease discrimination at work.
The first time it was celebrated on March 8 was in the year 1917, when Russian women protested for “Bread and Peace”, against the backdrop of World War 1. russianlife.com/stories/online/peace-land-bread/. Days later, Czar Nicholas II abdicated the throne, and women were granted the right to vote, by the provisional government. www.history.com/this-day-in-history/czar-nicholas-ii-abdicates.
In 1922, Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Russian Communist Party, made the day an official holiday in the Soviet Union, and over the next few decades, it was celebrated mostly in communist countries, including China, where even today women are given a half day off from work. iwd.uchicago.edu/page/international-womens-day-history#1917%20Massive%20Demonstrations%20in%20Russia.
Beginning this year, International Women’s Day will also be celebrated as a public holiday in the city of Berlin, Germany.
The United Nations brought the idea back to the western world in 1975, when it celebrated International Women’s Year and adopted the same celebration date, as the communist countries.
Since the 1990s, the UN started adopting an annual theme for the day. It has evolved to become a global day of recognition of women’s achievements and a call to action to support women’s rights and advance gender equality.
The theme for 2019 International Women’s Day is #Innovate for Change, and is a call to action, requesting everyone to mobilize the power of technology to create a more egalitarian world. Both innovation and technology can assist in empowering girls and women.
Still, a germinating digital divide means that women remain underrepresented in fields, such as science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM). Therefore let us turn around this trend and innovate for change. It is not too late to innovate and keep change within range.
In Canada, only a third of graduates in STEM are women, a difference that’s magnified in fields, such as engineering and computer science. Meanwhile, Canada and other countries face major job shortages in many STEM fields.
Women of color are also missing in STEM, and any effort at correcting this seeming deficit must begin from childhood. We need to encourage girls now so that they grow into smart, capable, and driven women, who take their rightful place in the world of science, technology, engineering, and math.
Past social ills and stereotypes molded females into secretaries and housewives, instead of scientists and tech entrepreneurs. When women are held back from filling high-quality jobs like these, Canada’s economy is also held back.
Usually very early in their academic life, most girls see the innovation and individuality drain from STEM curriculum, and science and math becomes only a series of numbers, temperatures, and chemical components.
In Montreal, where only a few schools in the English Montreal School Board and the Lester B Pearson School Board offer the STEM program. The damage is already done by the time college comes around. Noting that the problem starts in childhood, then that should be the point, at which the rectification process should begin.
Both parents and educators should be tasked with steering young women into STEM careers, with driven educational programs that arouse creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and collaboration. Females, especially young women of color, can and should be the next scientists, who cure diseases, explore space and create impactful technology.
Now is the time to act. That is a fact. With the tremendous inequity that young Black women face, educators and parents have to inspire them early. It is up to us to show them just how valuable they are. Women who have come forward and are pursuing studies in Science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) are an inspiration to many.
Let us, together, work to create more opportunities for women and girls in STEAM, where they can help shape our future, into one of greater equality and prosperity for everyone. It is of vital importance that women’s ideas and experiences equally influence the design and implementation of the innovations that shape our future societies.
As such we must be prepared to arrange the change and innovate, so that STEAM programs never abate.
Happy Women’s Day!
Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is Vice-president of the Guyana Cultural Association of Montreal. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.