The women who cut the path we walk.
Before the term ever became prominent in today’s culture, I am and have been a feminist. It’s not a stance I’m taking. It’s not political. It’s quite simply just how I was raised. It’s been engrained in my family’s history. It’s who I am, what I have done, what I am doing, and I owe it to the influence of strong women.
Growing up, I’m not sure I would have fully recognized their influence. But today, especially being International Women’s Day, it’s important that we celebrate how women have shaped who we are. More importantly, it helps us realize how far we have to go to create equality and gender parity.
In the 1950’s, my grandmother was a homemaker, a loving, caring mother of eight children in a rural catholic community in Newfoundland and Labrador. Facing a troubling situation at home, she somehow found the guts, the very deep courage and strength to make a change. She took all of her eight children, one just a baby, and left her community in search of a better, safer place to raise her family. Under a cloak of secrecy, and with only an inner courage, little money, or even time to pack, she made a long trek to St. John’s with eight young children by her side.
Arriving with five boys and three girls, nowhere to live, and nowhere to stay, the boys found a home in Mount Cashel, and the girls in Belvedere Orphanage. With hope in her heart and desire to keep the family united, she maintained the family unit, against insurmountable odds, finding a job at Mount Cashel as a cook, being able then to afford to visit her daughters while keeping an eye on her sons. I often wonder about those initial 1950’s Newfoundland days, the decision she was faced with, the unknown, the panic, the fear, but above all, the strength. The hardships she knew she was accepting. The unknown journey she was embarking on. All in a heroic effort to save her family. I can’t think of a better role model.
My grandmother passed away at 88 years of age surrounded by her children and family. Her dying words: “I am just not ready to leave you all yet.” She never has.
My family has been defined by the influence of strong women. My aunt was a catholic nun, Sister Rosalita. She was the oldest of the Furey clan who made the trek in the dark of night to St. John’s. She was that second layer of glue that held the family together. Being a Catholic nun in the 1960’s through to the 90’s could not have been an easy time, especially for Rose, a trendsetter, an agent of change and a maverick. She was not only spiritually sound in her beliefs, but was philosophically and academically a powerhouse way ahead of her time.
From driving motorcycles, to setting up an Apple computer lab for a high school in the 80’s, she broke the mold. She devoted her life to caring for the poor, travelling to underserviced areas for education and spiritual guidance, she was a beacon of change. She was tough, and often feared by students, but with a heart bigger than life and an ability to push people to greater heights.
Before Rose died, she was completing her PhD in math. I remember being in grade 4, sitting around the kitchen table while Rose taught me the Pythagorean theory, not letting me leave until I understood the sum of squares, and the purity of math.
She cut her own path in life often taking us along for the ride to see the first generation Mac computer, some new camera lens she had found, a new type of garden, or even taking my dirt bike for a long ride. I adored her. I aspired to be like her and miss her dearly. She was a woman ahead of her time.
Of course my life has been influenced by women beyond my family. I first met Zahida, a kind, soft spoken woman from Dhaka, Bangladesh. I had the pleasure of watching her in a classroom setting, and amongst leaders from around the world, her star out glowed the rest. I went to visit Zahida first in 2015. It became clear immediately that her kindness was only surpassed by her devotion to help. The respect and dedication as the CEO of a large charity caring for homeless children, people who could not afford health care, and teaching women about social programs and how to create small businesses was both aspirational and inspirational. I walked behind her in awe, taking notes, in pure admiration. I try to carry Zahida in everything I do.
The theme for International Women’s Day 2017 is #BeBoldForChange, and encourages everyone to focus on creating a more inclusive, gender-equal working world and getting to an equal 50-50 at work by 2030.
In order to feel safe and equal at work, women must first feel safe and equal at home.
The statistics on intimate partner abuse are staggering. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 women will experience some form of physical or sexual violence at the hands of their partner, and 38% of murders of women are committed by male intimate partners.
In order to achieve the goal of 50-50 at work, we cannot forget the women who cannot, or will not make it out of the home for work because of domestic violence. This is not just a Canadian problem, or a North American problem, this is a global problem. As I have travelled, I have witnessed it first hand in many countries. It’s a global issue and requires global solutions. Days like today help us remember.
50-50. It sounds like the kind of goal that should already exist. But here it is an ambitious global goal for even 2030. While fixing the problem in North America would be a massive accomplishment, it does not help the 16 year-old sex worker in Dhaka with a scar of the profession permanently tattooed on her face. Providing women around the world with more mentors of change, like Zahida, is a start. As I watched Zahida gracefully stroll the crowded streets of Dhaka, I could not help but see the smile of my grandmother, and the passion of my aunt.
On days like today we need to celebrate the women in leadership roles. They will help us all rectify the inequalities that exist throughout the work place. As men, we need the courage it takes to support this, to openly advocate for it. Only 4.8% of Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs. Nothing justifies this massive inequality. We need to do better, not just today, everyday. We need to strike a balance.
The courage, strength and leadership of these women are only a few examples of how I have been lucky to be surrounded by powerful women. My wife, Allison, is an Emergency Room doctor, a veteran of Broken Earth missions and a caring, attentive mother. I have two sisters I admire and look up to, and of course my own mother who I love dearly. I also have two daughters. For them most of all, I want to see change. To see the 50-50 realized. To have a world of opportunity open to them based on who they are, not to what gender they belong.
To all the influential, dedicated, never-quitting, always-inspiring women out there, I stand with you today on International Women’s Day.