Many times, over the years, I have listed a litany of things — small and large — that have changed in my life time to my children. I have done this because I wanted them to know that things can change; that injustices can be overcome; that attitudes can shift; that we can make a difference in the world and in the lives of others. When I was young:
- Girls were not allowed to wear pants to school. No matter how cold it was, we had to wear skirts or dresses. In winter, we wore those horrible leotards that kept sliding down our legs.
- My mother could not get a bank account of her own without my father’s signature.
- My mother signed her name with both my Dad’s first and last name. When I married, I kept my last name. When our children were born, they were given my name as their last name. Their father’s name became their middle names.
- When I was growing up, I knew no women who had gone to university. Today, I work many women who have masters’ degrees, doctorates, medical degrees, law degrees and degrees in engineering.
- When I graduated and landed a job with a small industrial union, I was the first woman to be hired into a non-clerical position. At that time, no woman had ever led a political party in Canada. No woman had ever been the Premier of a province in Canada. Today, two of the three political parties in Ontario are led by women, while four of the ten provinces have female Premiers.
- When I grew up, I lived in the suburbs where we, with our Italian last name, were the most exotic people in the neighbourhood. All of my friends were white, although many had families from different parts of Europe. Today, my children live in a multi-cultural world with friends whose families hail from China, the Philipines, India, Central America, the middle East, as well as Europe and small-town Canada.
- When I was young, I did not know anyone who was openly gay or lesbian. Today, I have several close friends and a few family members who are gay, and my children are close friends with people who are gay, straight, lesbian and bisexual.
With International Women’s Day upon us, I feel overwhelmed by all of the problems still facing women around the world: Women raising children in war zones; Women watching their children die of starvation; Women sold into the sex trade; Young girls forced to marry against their will; Girls deprived of schooling because of religious ideology; Women subjected to rape and abuse. But, I remind myself, that things can change. People can make a difference in other people’s lives. We can change the world we live in. And this gives me hope.