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It was 100 years ago, at the Socialist International meeting in Copenhagen in 1910 that delegates unanimously agreed to establish a Women’s Day honouring the movement for women’s rights and calling for universal suffrage for women. Since that date, International Women’s Day has been celebrated on March 8 in recognition of the global struggles and achievements of women.

In 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City killed more than 140 young working women, most of whom were immigrants. The tragedy highlighted the demands that women were making for improved working conditions and was used as a rallying cry in International Women’s Day marches.

In 1970, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada issued its report, calling for improvements such as the elimination of wage discrimination against women and the development of a national child care program.

Forty years on, it is hard to believe that some of these challenges are still with us including:

  • Ongoing attacks on women’s rights by the Harper federal government: Canada’s record on women’ issues is under review, as well as that of other countries, at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The UNCSW meeting is in its second week of deliberations in New York. CUPE is participating and has signed on to the critique of the government’s policies on women, as detailed in Reality Check.
  • The recent federal budget has again ignored the needs of women: The real important issues - poverty reduction, child care, housing, health care, pay equity and full-time good paying jobs all got short shrift in Thursday’s federal budget. Women’s role in the Canadian economy is essential yet the Harper government’s actions betray its lack of commitment to women’s equality. Canada needs to live up to its human rights commitment and actually invest in women’s equality.
  • The Harper government’s campaign to eliminate the long-gun registry: This move will have direct consequences for women. The registry has helped reduce gun-related spousal homicides by 50 per cent and has proven itself an important step towards ending violence against women. CUPE is involved in the CLC campaign to keep the long-gun registry and our union has passed a resolution in support.
  • The fight for a public child care program and against privatization: CUPE and our partner advocates have long opposed privatization in child care. Yet, CUPE’s new material produced for the national child care anti-privatization campaign shows for-profit child care is on the rise. CUPE’s campaign, highlighted in regional child care tours, is about public delivery as well as public funding for child care across the country.

On International Women’s Day, we call on our governments to implement a public system where every child can attend a program that blends early childhood education and care.

Good quality accessible and affordable child care is a foundation of lifelong learning and healthy development for children. It is essential to parental employment, necessary to reduce poverty, to integrate newcomers to Canada and critical to women’s equality.