The 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day is certainly a milestone to celebrate, but it is also a day to pause and reflect; to look back on our achievements and look forward to envision change and progress.

Our grandmas fought to vote, our mothers fought for reproductive rights, what is our fight? What does being a feminist mean or look like today? Should our focus be on equal pay in Canada or human trafficking in Cambodia? What is our role and how do we define ourselves? We brought together a group of highly dynamic, influential women, who are all leaders within their field or community, to ask them the tough questions. We hope that in turn, their thoughtful responses will help you to reconsider what this day means to you and reevaluate what feminism means right now.

Shedoesthecity’s #IWD Panel:
Jully Black: Juno Award winning R&B singer and songwriter.
Denise Benson: Eye Weekly Extended Play Columnist & host of super popular monthly Cherry Bomb, an all-out dance party for queer women and friends.
Judy Holm: Producer of The F-Word: Who wants to be a Feminist?
Rosemary McCarney: CEO of Plan Canada, Because I am a Girl
Lina Medaglia: PhD, Doctor of Psychology, Feminist and Human Rights Author and Professor in the AWCCA Assaulted Women’s and Children’s Counsellor/Advocate Programme of George Brown College.
Paulette Senior: CEO of YWCA, Canada

What does the word “Feminist” mean to you?
Lina Medaglia: Peace and justice for everyone; not just women.
Denise Benson: Strength, independence and the ability to view the world with both a compassionate and critical eye. I’ve never understood why so many women – of many generations – feel the need to preface any statement with ‘I’m not a feminist, but…’ Without feminism and the women’s movements through the decades, many of us would not be living the lives we do at this point in history. It’s a simple fact.
Paulette Senior: Freedom, courage, choice, and taking up one’s own space in the world, without apology and without infringement on others.
Judy Holm: The word itself needs to be redefined. It has become exclusive and we need to broaden it back out again.
Jully Black: To me, this word signifies a “Movement” that is inclusive of men and focuses on fighting for women to have equal rights. Be it politically, culturally, religiously: rights are rights and women must be granted the same rights as men so we can have balance on this earth.
Rosemary McCarney: Human rights—because women’s rights are human rights and feminists are the activists who progress the human rights agenda for all.

Where should our focus be right now?
Judy Holm: We need to be vigilant about basic rights like equal pay and not slide back into acquiescence. In order to that, we have to work to revolutionize the system rather than try to make it conform.
Rosemary McCarney: The elimination of all forms of violence against women globally.
Jully Black: In my opinion, our focus should be to do what we can to ensure that women and girls are given equal opportunity for education all around the world. It has been proven that when a girl is educated the family, including the men, all live longer, healthier and more prosperous lives.
Paulette Senior: That it’s not over – it is still a struggle nationally for many women, especially those marginalized due to race, age, culture, education, economics, orientation, Aboriginal status, rural status, etc. Some of us have benefitted but not all. How do we work towards all so that gains made are reflected in women’s lives no matter who and where they are? A critical focus to support all women rests in more women participating politically – that is running for office, managing campaigns, volunteering their time and/or supporting those who do, with intentionality.
Lina Medaglia: Excellent, affordable daycare, good nutrition programs, good, accessible housing, free education and healthcare.
Denise Benson: Sadly, for as far as women have been able to advance in many aspects of our lives throughout much – but far from all – of the world, we still need to fight for many of the same things early feminists came to organize around: equal pay, equal rights, the ability (and safety) to make decisions relating to our own bodies, and so on. Even the rights we may think we have are constantly being challenged if not eroded. One look at Harper and his Conservative government tells us that, as with his frequent cuts targeted at women’s organizations or their recent policy power moves that find phrases like “gender equality” being erased from the political lexicon. We’re living in interesting times, where much of what we think has been won and fully ingrained into society may need to be fought for all over again.

What does this day mean to you?
Rosemary McCarney: This day is a celebration of all that we, as women today, have in common. It is also a celebration of all the great women who have gone before us.
Paulette Senior: I lament the suffering of those who are living under oppressive systems and regimes that restrict, hurt and kill them just for being women and girls. I dream of what is possible and recommit to work to end violence against women and girls and I acknowledge and celebrate our accomplishments and gains made.
Denise Benson: To me, I.W. D. is a day to think, read, talk – to learn about significant women in history, to appreciate what we have, to think about the here and now and to celebrate the women in our lives and on the planet in the ways we care to.
Jully Black: This day means the coming together of the minds, hearts and souls of the human race to celebrate the importance of Women from all walks of life all around the world. This year I have chosen to not only celebrate but to take an active role by joining forces with CARE CANADA for the first ever Walk In Her Shoes campaign.
Lina Medaglia: It reminds me of the sacrifices women have made thus far, and how far we still have to go. It reminds me that we need allies everywhere, and that men need to get on board with us more than ever, because “unless the girls and women of the world are treated with respect, humanity, and kindness, none of us will be free.”
Judy Holm: The 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day is a real milestone -an opportunity to look back- to understand where we are today and to look forward, thinking about ways to work and live together. Inclusively.

If you could recommend an essay, poem, article or novel to read today, what would it be?
Paulette Senior: “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou and “Half the Sky” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
Jully Black: “On the right Track” by Marion Jones.
Lina Medaglia: Carol Gilligan, “In A Different Voice.”–Girls’ psychology and moral development.
Rosemary McCarney: Parvana’s Journey (The Trilogy)
Judy Holm: I would say read or reread The Female Eunuch.
Denise Benson: I’m torn, as there are many books that spring to mind. If I could suggest two very different titles, the first would be Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by poet, essayist and novelist Audre Lorde. It’s a novel – Lorde dubbed it ‘biomythography’ – that explores a young black woman’s coming out as a lesbian (and early feminist) in 1950’s Greenwich Village. It’s an incredibly compelling, powerful book that I’ve returned to numerous times. On a different tip, I think that Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Pop and Rap – an anthology edited by two fantastic journalists, Evelyn McDonnell and Ann Powers – is one of the greatest collections of music-related writing I’ve ever read. The pieces span more than three decades, with contributors including Kim Gordon, dream hampton, Donna Dresch, bell hooks, Patti Smith, Hattie Gossett and loads of other amazing women.

~ Jen McNeely