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Is it ‘TIME’S UP’ for the 2017 feminist movement?

Women in the entertainment industry — including actresses America Ferrera and Eva Longoria; lawyer Nina L. Shaw; actress Reese Witherspoon; producer Shonda Rhimes; and lawyer Tina Tchen, to name a few — have come together to form an initiative that will fight systemic sexual harassment in Hollywood and in blue-collar workplaces.

You may be thinking: sure, a whole bunch of famous people have come together to do some fundraising, big deal?! This happens a few times a year. But, in reality, the initiative TIME’S UP is much more than a pet project spearhead by a select number of privileged people. Instead of focusing on the sensationalist media coverage of the #MeToo movement, the initiative provides real support for victims and calls for new legislation that will penalize companies that tolerate sexual harassment.

As the initiative’s website says, “TIME’S UP is a unified call for change from women in entertainment for women everywhere. From movie sets to farm fields to boardrooms alike, we envision nationwide leadership that reflects the world in which we live.”

After the social campaigns and the marches — this call for political and legal change is the next logical step. Ironically, it was a group of victims rather than those elected to lead our nations who stood up to call for this change.

TIME’S UP will provide a legal defence fund, based on $13 million in donations, to help less privileged men and women protect themselves from the fallout of reporting sexual misconduct. The fund will be administered by the National Women’s Law Centre, which has a network of lawyer and public relations professionals available to provide assistance.

The initiative is also calling for an increase of women (including members of the LGBTQ community and people of colour) in positions of power across all industries, as well as equal representation, benefits, and pay. Perhaps North America can follow Iceland, who made equal pay mandatory on Jan. 1. Every single company in Iceland now has to obtain a certification saying that men and women are being paid equally in similar positions.

Can you imagine every company in North America needing to obtain proof of pay equality? It’s the stuff of dreams.

TIME’S UP was formed after 700,000 female farmworkers sent messages and letters to celebrities throughout the entertainment industry following the allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo social media campaign. “Even though we work in very different environments, we share a common experience of being preyed upon by individuals who have the power to hire, fire, blacklist and otherwise threaten our economic, physical and emotional security,” they wrote. “In these moments of despair, and as you cope with scrutiny and criticism because you have bravely chosen to speak out against the harrowing acts that were committed against you, please know that you’re not alone. We believe and stand with you.”

The TIME’S UP website leads with a letter written to show support for those farmworkers, in which over 300 people within the entertainment industry acknowledge their suffering and stand with them to try and help change the system.

The initiative is volunteer-led and doesn’t have a leadership team. It is comprised instead of smaller working groups, each one tackling a certain area. For example, one group is creating a framework to end sexual harassment in show business while another is reviewing legislation that will tackle abuse within businesses, including the use of nondisclosure agreements to silence victims.

About half of men think women are well-represented in leadership, despite the numbers that show otherwise. When the #MeToo campaign started to trend, most men couldn’t fathom how many women had been sexually assaulted.

2017 may have been labelled as the year for feminism and women’s rights, but nothing actually changed. Perhaps more people are aware of the situation than before, but there was no legislation promised by politicians and no guarantees made by industry management.

There is still a lot that needs to change in order to ensure gender equality — and our time is not up!

 Featured Image by Vini.

The way we view powerful men is about to change

One by one, they all fall down — men of power, men of money, but clearly not men of finesse. Simply put, men that are lacking any form of respect for their female peers, co-workers, or acquaintances. The movement that started with the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, has grown into a festering and disturbing monster over the past few months, with almost daily cases of high-profile men who are now being exposed for their alleged sexual misconduct. What do these stories prove to us? How has society allowed these powerful men to dominate and get away with locker-room talk and disgusting predatory behaviour?

For me personally, it started with watching the fall of British actor Ed Westwick. I was a fan of his work and I grew up watching soapy drama’s like Gossip Girl. Sure, his character on the show lacked morals, and the way he played with women’s emotions was atrocious, and that time he attempted to ‘rape’ a fellow character on the show…that was all teenage drama. After all, he was playing a role. He was being ‘Chuck Bass’ . But, when this transferred into real life, and woman after woman described similar scenarios where he pinned them down and forced himself upon them, I knew he had no right. I feel terrible for the women in these situations. While no charges have been filed against Westwick, his reputation is certainly paying the price, as his shows have either been cancelled or halted.

Matt Lauer is a face I grew up watching. I thought of him as a respectable and well-known journalist on NBC. Waking up and watching the today show with Matt Lauer and Katie Couric was a tradition that many people can recall over the 20 years he has been working at the American network. And it was all ruined in a few minutes after hearing he was terminated for sexual misconduct. Lauer allegedly sexted interns and gave co-workers sex toys with notes about how they should use them. There is also the tape that TMZ found of Lauer telling once co-host Meredith Vieira, to ‘keep bending over like that’, when he thought the cameras were off air.  My view has certainly changed. How was this behaviour tolerated? Obviously the fact that he was the highest paid reporter and attracted over four million viewers with his charm each morning have him a lot of sway.

I’m now prepared to be disappointed by the familiar faces I see in the media and whose work I once admired as brilliant. Just this morning, entertainment mogul Russel Simmons stepped down as CEO from his string of companies after he was accused of “sexual misconduct”, where a woman alleged he forced her to have sex with him

Nothing gives these men the privilege to put women through years of mental and physical abuse? Probably just that — they are…. so-called men.

Let us continue to speak out against any form of abuse to women and may the fall from grace for these powerful men mark a turning point in history for women around the world .

 

What do you think of the Muslim ‘girl in offensive clothing’?

It was the snap seen around the world. Just six seconds long, but enough to change a woman’s life forever.

On Monday, a woman was casually seen walking in the desert streets in a short skirt and a black crop top. It is summer after all, and she probably wanted to stay cool in the heat. However, she was in Saudi Arabia, a country where there are strict laws regarding how women dress and feminine identity.

As the woman smiled and coyly looked at the camera before sauntering on, this visual opened up an entire investigation into her identity, her whereabouts, and eventually her arrest.

The girl in the video has since been detained by the Saudi police and a special investigation is being held for the “girl in offensive clothing.” The case is being handled by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, also known as the religious police.

So why is this act considered offensive?

Saudi Arabia is a strict muslim country and there are certain rules that women  must obey or risk being punished. While in public, women are expected to be covered from head to toe, literally. They are required to wear something called an abaya ( a long black robe), a hijab ( a headscarf), and finally a veil to cover their faces, where normally only the eyes are visible.

In other muslim countries, the rules of dress may vary and some places in Dubai have signs posted asking their customers to wear respectful clothing , where shoulders and knees should be covered. There is also a law in Dubai which prohibits men and women from drinking alcohol, kissing, holding hands, and, most obviously, having sex in public.

Each county comes with their specific set of rules that residents have to abide by or risk being punished. Doesn’t the same go for Canada? Public sex is illegal in this country as well as displays of indecent exposure. There are also various laws concerning alcohol. In Quebec, you can easily purchase alcohol at your local grocery or corner store, but in Ontario, there are designated places to purchase alcohol such as the Beer Store and the LCBO.

My point is that every country, or even provinces, have different laws to govern and while the rules of Saudi Arabia are deemed oppressive towards women, there will always be a debate whether to support or punish. Another case making the headlines in Saudi Arabia, for example, relates to women being able to drive in the country. It is illegal for women to drive due to deep religious beliefs in which female drivers are said to undermine social values of the country. In 2011, there was a campaign in protest entitled “Women2Drive” where women were encouraged to show themselves driving on social media.

There are still various groups that advocate for female rights in Saudi Arabia, as women are still required to have male guardianship for government services, including applying for a passport or travelling abroad. A woman must get consent from her husband, father, or other male relative.

As for the woman in in the short snap, she continues to be the subject of a questionable debate, highlighting the issues of women’s rights in strict muslim countries. By the way, the viral video of that woman was shared without her knowledge — not cool friend, not cool !

Ontario tries to empower women, but ends up with stale report

Engaging empowered women in Ontario is getting more political airtime, with more focus on the “status of women” in legislature. But will it have the desired impact of actually helping women in Ontario?

The province released an engagement paper on June 9 that describes the ways in which the government wants to increase women empowerment and close the wage gap. The paper includes a survey with questions about youth, economic opportunities, social attitudes, and leadership. These are significant issues for women and addressing them is important — as long as it is for and about the women in Ontario, instead of an election issue to win votes with no real purpose.

The survey asks Canadian citizens what they believe is the most important component to women’s empowerment via a series of detailed questions. The issue with the survey is that it offers several reasons why women don’t have complete equality in Ontario and doesn’t mandate the survey-taker to choose which issue is the most important on every question. This allows the people taking the survey to choose every issue and not specify what subject matters should be tackled first. It is fairly obvious that each of the four goals specified in the report is important, but asking if all of them are important is redundant. This is often seen in government surveys and makes a democratic and potentially helpful questionnaire essentially pointless.

Though Ontario is making strides with women, the efforts thus far is limited. For example, the province has committed to help 100,000 children obtain licensed child care over the next five years, but the subsidy waiting list in Toronto alone is 18 months long. There are also efforts to help 1700 low-income women gain financial literacy training, but there are thousands of women who still need help to gain education and training to move up in the world. Needless to say, more is needed and it shouldn’t be based on fulfilling commitments five years down the road, but should be fulfilled now.

The report is well-minded, but still lends itself to words such as “encouraging women to explore different careers”, and “supporting continued career progression”, but lacks specific goals with targeted language. Though it is important to “encourage” and “support”, women need action and specific goals with a ready-made budget instead of a tentative report and survey. Often, talking about women empowerment is seen as enough action when credible and supported goals need to be met to actually close the wage gap and promote women equality.

Women’s economic empowerment is a primary concern in Ontario and needs to be addressed with affirmative action as soon as possible. Between reports, surveys, and loosely mandated changes, there remains a gap on giving childcare to all women who need it so they can work. Pay wage gaps must also be addressed immediately, and board positions should be mandated to have 50/50 representation.  The engagement paper is yet another shining example of the government using ‘status of women’ to appease female voters — what will it take to get the real support and action women need?

Women in History: Viola Desmond

In honour of Black History Month, Women’s Post wanted to take a moment to honour a woman who was not afraid to take a stand by taking a seat in the ‘white’s only’ section of a local Nova Scotia theatre; Viola Desmond.

Desmond was a successful businesswoman in Halifax and the first black woman to set up a hair salon in Nova Scotia in 1937. On Nov. 8, 1946, she was traveling to Sydney to sell her popular line of hair products and her car broke down in New Glasgow. Desmond decided to see a movie at the Roseland Theatre and, after requesting to sit in the lower level of the theatre, was subsequently given a ticket on the balcony. She thought it was a mistake and returned to the booth to exchange her ticket, only to be told by the cashier: “I’m not permitted to sell downstairs tickets to you people.” Desmond decided to sit in the lower level seats anyway, and was subsequently arrested for doing so.

She spent the night in jail and was charged for tax evasion. The argument? Balcony tickets charged an extra penny in taxes.  Desmond was convicted and forced to pay a fine for $26, which was quite a lot of money at that time. She later sought support from the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP) and made two unsuccessful appeals to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. Desmond was posthumously pardoned on April 15, 2010 and has been nominated and chosen to be on the $10 Canadian bill, which will come into effect as of 2018.

Desmond was born on July 6, 1914 into a large family that was active in the community. Her parents were James Albert and Gwendolin Irene Davis, with her father black and her mother white, unusual for the time. Desmond was raised to believe she could achieve her dreams and set out to open a beauty salon once she reached adulthood. Due to her heritage, she wasn’t allowed to train in Halifax to become a beautician and attended school in Montreal, Atlanta City and New York. She then returned to Halifax and opened a hair salon there.

Desmond went on to set up the Desmond School of Beauty Culture, which trained black women who weren’t allowed to attend other schools. She provided women with skills to open their own businesses and further provided jobs for black women in their own communities. Desmond also began Vi’s Beauty Products, a line of hair products for black women. Eventually, she opened a combined barbershop and hairdressing salon with her husband, Jack Desmond on Gottingen Street.

After the failed attempts to appeal her case against Roseland Theatre, Desmond closed her business and enrolled in business school in Montreal. She died in 1965 in New York at 50 years old and never received a pardon while she was living from the Canadian government.

Desmond beat out thousands of contenders who were also nominated to be on the $10 bill, and her name being honoured with such high esteem is well deserved. She stood up for what was right when the stakes were high, and proceeded to pursue justice even when she could not achieve her goal. Desmond is truly a heroine because of her utter refusal to simply accept a blatant act of racism and her willingness to use an unjust legal system to make real change.

That is a woman worth celebrating.

What’s the true cost of birth control in Ontario?

Women are forced to pay for birth control, feminine hygiene products and take responsibility for their fertility in a way that men are not. As a country that purports democracy and equality, steps need to be taken to ensure women aren’t forced to pay for much-needed products.

Birth control in Canada is expensive and cuts deep into the pockets of young women already trying to make ends meet. Without insurance, birth control has an added cost and women are expected to fork out the cash. One third of women in North America have reported struggling to pay for birth control at one point in their lives.By providing it for a cost in Canada, it questions whether protecting yourself is actually a right of women or is it instead a cash cow for greedy pharmaceutical companies who are actively taking advantage of women.

Birth control is universally covered in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and China, among other countries. Canada does not offer birth control for free or subsidized without insurance coverage, and this limits accessibility for women looking for different options.

 

After comparing prices at three different pharmacies in Toronto, the average prices for the five main types of birth control are astronomical. Mirena, a hormonal IUD offered by Bayer who is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in Canada, has an average cost of $416. Though it lasts for five years, finding this type of money as a young woman is unrealistic and often prevents women from accessing this option.  The Nuva ring is the second most expensive option because it must be bought monthly. It is approximately $31 per month and this cost adds up quickly throughout the year to $328. Though oral birth control appears affordable month to month at $20, it adds up to $240 per year making it the third most costly option.

Women who are low-income have alternative options to seek cost-free birth control, but the availability is certainly limited. There are 14 sexual health clinics in Toronto, most with extremely limited drop-in hours. These clinics will help provide low-to-no cost birth control to women who need it, but these clinics have long waitlists and are drop-in only. Oftentimes, these clinics are so busy that there will be over 20 people waiting at the door prior to its opening.

Other options include Family Planning, which offers certain birth control options free and charges a discounted price for others. The IUD is discounted, but still has a price tag on it. If you are looking for an IUD as well, you must phone at the beginning of the month to schedule an appointment that will be at least three weeks later. The other option is the Bay Street Centre for Birth Control, but book quickly. The waitlist to book an appointment at the centre was three months long.

It is clear that Canada has is an issue when it comes to birth control. The act of charging women to protect themselves from getting pregnant is arguably discrimination.  Canada needs to join the other countries that have moved to universally cover the costs of birth control, and grant access for women of all incomes to different types of protection. Only then will I say that Canada is a country that truly supports the rights of women.

 

Miscarriage may be labelled a disability in Ontario

A miscarriage is often misunderstood, especially in the context of the working world. This tragic event can often have debilitating effects, including depression and postpartum disorder, but women are still expected to return to work as if they are recovering from an illness such as the flu or a cold.

Recently, a miscarriage was recognized as a disability in an interim court decision on March 14, in the case of Winnie Mou. She was fired in 2013 for being unable to meet workplace targets after suffering a miscarried pregnancy. The interim decision says that the company fighting against Mou argued that “the Application should be dismissed because the applicant has failed to establish a disability. It asserts that in order for an injury or illness to constitute a disability, there must be an aspect of permanence and persistence to the condition.”

The judge rejected this argument and instead supported the notion that Mou was suffering from a disability. Instead she ruled: “I also find the applicant’s miscarriage is a disability. I acknowledge that a miscarriage may be covered under the ground of sex or as an intersection of sex and disability. It also is not a common ailment, and it is certainly not transitory. It is clear from the applicant’s testimony that she continues to experience significant emotional distress from the miscarriage even today.” 

Interestingly, “permanence and persistence” are not a definitive part of a disability, as determined by Section 10 (3) of the Human Rights Code. A disability can be temporary and still apply to the definition. The judge’s inclusion of emotional distress as an integral identifier for a miscarriage is an important development.

Depression and other mental disorders are often dismissed in the workplace as an irrelevant reason for missing work. The inclusion of the emotional and long-term impacts of a miscarriage is a welcome clause to the definition of a disability. Many women will return to work without having managed the devastating emotional impacts of having a miscarriage, which can lead to further depression and illness.

By allowing women to heal outside of the workplace without losing their jobs, it validates the relevance of miscarriages. It will also (hopefully) open the doors for increasing acceptance of miscarriages and its associated causes for depression. There continues to be a tendency to hide this pregnancy-related issue and to avoid speaking of it.  This does not promote healing for the women who experience its after-effects and may also have impacts such as shame or hiding its existence furthering the emotional pain.

Hopefully, this case is settled in favour of Winnie Mou and it will have a positive effect on the future of women who undergo a miscarriage and need to take time from work. The legal system has the capacity to make sweeping legal changes to the Human Rights Code and this workplace mishap may just make Canadian legal history, modifying the Disabilities Act of Human Rights Code for the better.

Marathon running? Ever heard of Philippides?

The inspiration for the marathon was a man named Philippides.  According to Greek myth, Philippides ran from the battlefield at Marathon all the way to Athens to announce Greece’s victory over Persia. He ran roughly 26 miles as fast as his legs could carry him – an amazing athletic achievement.

No one seems to remember though what happened next to Philippides: he collapsed and died on the spot.

Training for a marathon is an increasingly popular activity these days. For a lot of folks the marathon represents the absolute pinnacle of fitness. “If I can run a marathon,” the thinking goes, “then I’ll really be in shape.” Chances are you’ll wind up in some shape, it just might not be good shape.

I think that the volume that training for a marathon requires is far too much for the majority of us and leads to unnecessary wear and tear on the joints. There’s a certain point at which the exercise that we do ceases to be beneficial and actually becomes harmful. Sometimes it’s difficult to recognize this point because exercise is promoted as being good for us; so logically more of it must be better. Not so. Exercising too much can raise levels of stress hormones causing our bodies to break down muscle and store fat. Just take a look at a marathoner. Most don’t look at all like pictures of health; they look like they’re wasting away to me.

Don’t get me wrong: I think that running can be great for fitness. But there’s a sweet spot where we can get most of the benefit while avoiding much of the harm. (It varies from individual to individual.) Perhaps running briskly for 20 minutes doesn’t gives us the same bragging rights that running a marathon does, but it might do us better at the end of the day.