International Women’s Day is celebrated globally on March 8th to acknowledge women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements. The theme for 2023 is “Embrace Equity,” which calls for collective action toward achieving gender equality and empowering women in all spheres of life. This year’s theme is a call to action for individuals and organizations to embrace equity and promote gender diversity and inclusivity in our society.

The last several years put a spotlight on systemic problems that need to be solved. The pandemic brought to the forefront several issues that disproportionately affect women, including loss of income, barriers to employment, and domestic violence. Losing income and unemployment can create significant stress and anxiety, impacting women’s mental health and well-being. Domestic violence, which has increased during the pandemic, further exacerbates these issues by creating additional barriers to employment and financial independence. These themes are interconnected, and the intersection of factors such as race, class, and immigration status compound the complexity of the problem.

RBC Economics reported that the 2020 downturn eclipsed any other recession regarding job losses, pushing women’s employment to its lowest level in 30 years. While some of these losses have since been regained, women in low-earning occupations have had the slowest recovery, compared to women in medium and high-income occupations, after experiencing the most significant job loss. In addition, the lack of consistent and affordable childcare can present a barrier to many parents, notably the 80 per cent of single-family homes led by women.

Canadian mothers and caregivers have been overworked, overwhelmed, and undervalued: 48 per cent of mothers say they reached their breaking point last year, and 39 per cent said they struggle to keep up with work demands.

Since the onset of the pandemic, there have been increased police reports of intimate partner violence in Canada, with women and girls representing 79 per cent of victims. As a result, it’s been called the shadow pandemic – an unseen public health crisis that impacts thousands of lives.

Addressing these issues – poverty, mental health, stress, social isolation, and violence – requires a comprehensive approach to supporting women in accessing education and employment opportunities, providing affordable childcare, and addressing systemic barriers to gender equality. However, when united, we can create a world where women can achieve their full potential and thrive.

The United Nations officially recognized International Women’s Day in 1977; however, it emerged due to protests, labour movements, and social action dating back to the 1850s. A call to action and a celebration at the same time, International Women’s Day asks us to look around and see the women in our community for who they are, the contributions they offer, and the issues they face every day.

How do we #EmbraceEquity?

When we reflect on the theme of #EmbracingEquity, recognizing the role of traditional Indigenous principles can be integral to achieving this goal. For Indigenous people, reduced inequality and gender equality are inherent in natural life and traditions, which recognize the importance of community care and stewardship of the land. The United Way Indigenous strategy, Akak’stiman, highlights the need to understand and appreciate the Indigenous and Western systems to move towards a more equitable society.

By embracing Indigenous principles, we can adopt a methodology that values relationship-building and community care, leading to a more equitable society for all women. In Alberta, we partner with local organizations that engage in this work and use collaborative approaches to address the challenges facing women. Through these partnerships, we can ensure that women from all backgrounds can fully participate in society and benefit from the progress toward greater equity. By recognizing the contributions of traditional Indigenous principles, we can work together towards a brighter and more just future for all women.

Our partner organizations are leading the way in creating equity for all women and girls. The Women’s Centre of Calgary offers everything from basic needs support to legal and financial resources and helps develop the leadership capacity of women and girls who use their services. In addition, Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association builds a welcoming community, helping women and families settle into their new homes with bridging programs, counselling, and employment programs.

United Way is a proud partner of YWCA Calgary‘s Women’s Economic Prosperity (WEP) initiative. WEP is a program designed to support women in achieving financial independence and success. The program offers workshops and training sessions, coaching and mentorship opportunities, and access to a network of professional women. Through these resources, women are empowered to build their skills, knowledge, and confidence to enter or re-enter the workforce, advance their careers, or start their own businesses. WEP also addresses systemic barriers preventing women from achieving economic prosperity, such as discrimination and unequal pay.

United Way of Calgary and Area’s Community Hubs Initiative offers the opportunity to connect with community brokers (also primarily women) and access supports and services. Most importantly, Hub sites can quickly respond to a community’s changing needs because they are on the ground.

These all contribute to stronger neighbourhoods where women have a voice, a space, and the opportunity to develop to their true potential.

Women United is United Way’s movement of more than 70,000 women worldwide dedicated to creating equal opportunity for all – local female philanthropists who bring people together to make lasting social change.

As we continue to move into recovery, there are silver linings ahead. Our community can transform in a way that makes Calgary a place everyone belongs and where we can create something new for future generations of women and girls.