March 8 is International Women’s Day, and a time to rally for more gender equality and support for the world’s women who make up a little more than half the population. In Guelph, that meant coming down to Market Square in front of city hall, hearing some speeches, and then marching around the downtown core to make your voice heard. That’s just what a group of over 100 people on Tuesday did to mark the occasion.
“Today and beyond. I encourage all of us to think about the actionable changes that we can make to recognize that not all women are created equally,” said Jensen Williams, the public educator for Guelph Wellington Women in Crisis, one of the groups sponsoring today’s International Women’s Day festivities.
“Indigenous women, Black women, and racialized women face the brunt of gender inequality while dealing with intersections of both colonial and racial violence,” Williams added. “Today, think about how we can make our feminism more intersectional and inclusive of the different needs and realities of women. Let’s centre not just on equality, but equity in our work to ensure that barriers are not just being reduced, but they’re being eliminated for our collective liberation.”
Williams said that there have been many historical moments in the last few years, but one of the most important ones is seeing frontline health workers, the bulk of whom are women, declared heroes in the face of the pandemic. Still, there’s a lot of work left to do for true gender equality, and Williams explained that lifting up women has an effect in lifting up everyone.
“It’s not just women who benefit from equality, it’s all of us, and when we think about other aspects of gender oppression, it’s not just sexism. We’re also looking at intersections with things like homophobia and transphobia,” Williams said. “Transgender, two-spirited, non-binary and gender-diverse individuals also face unique barriers and harm in this world as a result of their gender identity. So when we’re seeking to break binary barriers and biases, we’re advocating for a gender equal future for everyone regardless of their gender identity.”
The goal, Williams said, is to see an end to gender oppression in all its forms. While women can celebrate the achievements made, we have to take those victories use them as a platform to advocate for further advances. As for the men, they too can use their privilege to lift up women and women’s voices in a way that’s not just checking boxes on a form to achieve the appearance of representation. “There is room for absolutely everyone in this work, and male allies are a really crucial part of that,” Williams added.
One of those allies was Mayor Cam Guthrie who said that we need to promote the extraordinary women in our lives every day and not just on March 8, and that we must do everything we can as a community to promote gender equality and break down systemic barriers.
“Issues of equality are ongoing, and it’s not just days like today. I see it in the workplace, I see it in relationships and businesses, it’s across the community, and we need to be able to call it out, and also step up to apologize and say we’re going to do better,” Guthrie said.
“The executive team have really made this a priority within our own organization to change the cultural for the better, so it’s not only coming from me or the team on council, it’s coming from the culture within our City of Guelph as we deliver services to the entire community,” he added.
The third and final speaker was Karyn Boscariol, the “Queen of Craft” at Wellington Brewery. She uses her position to help promote getting more women into the beer business, an industry, she says, that’s still overwhelmingly male-dominated like so many other industries.
“My aim is to highlight the women who were making good things happen in beer, and to ensure that they are at the helm of all of the teachings,” Boscariol said. “I also see the need for women who are interested in pursuing craft beer as a career or those who simply just love beer, to learn in a really safe, comfortable space that allowed and fostered community.”
Boscariol’s Queen of Craft initiatives, including the donation of 50 cents per can from an IPA celebrating International Women’s Day, have raised over $48,000 for Guelph Wellington Women in Crisis. This year’s series of Queen of Craft events begin on Saturday April 23, and you can find more information at Wellington Brewery’s website here.
“For nine years, we’ve been challenging gender stereotypes, celebrating women’s achievements, and building a community of support,” Boscariol explained. “Not only are these events informative, but they’re a hell of a lot of fun. If you’re interested in getting involved as a volunteer, or learning more about beer, or simply getting out of the house – because we’ve all been pretty cooped up for a while now – we’re a very welcoming community that would love to have you participate in all of our initiatives.”
After the speeches, Williams and volunteers lead a march through the downtown, from Market Square up Norfolk and around the block down Wyndham before returning to the square for speakers, music, children’s activities and Zumba. The YMCA of Three Rivers Guelph, the Canadian Federation of Women Guelph, the Zonta Club of Guelph, and ARCH HIV/AIDS Resources and Community Health weer all co-sponsors of the event.
In terms of other International Women’s Day activities, the YMCA of Three Rivers will be handing out their annual Women of Distinction Awards in a virtual ceremony tonight at 6 pm.