Sunday, January 22, 2017

Unity at the YEG Women's March on Washington

The Edmonton version of the Women's March on Washington was a foggy, somewhat chilly event for all those who chose to stand in solidarity for the sake of women's rights. But the passion of the speakers, the spirit of the crowd, and the importance of what we were there for kept us all warm.

It wasn't lost on me that my family and I were standing in the shadow of a statue that honours the many orders of religious women who established the healthcare, education and social welfare systems of our province. I'm willing to bet that a few of those religious women were present in the crowd, standing up for human rights in the form of women's rights, just as they always have.

It also wasn't lost on me that the Women's March fell in the middle of the Week for Christian Unity. In some ways, I wish it was the week for World Unity, unity not only in a religious sect that has divided itself into different churches, but a week for the overall unity of humanity. Sometimes I think we Christians are too focused on ourselves, and miss the bigger picture that God intended the whole world to work together in all spheres, not just our religion!

That aside, I took the opportunity to stroll around the grounds of the Alberta Legislature, and was deeply moved by the people, young and not-so-young, who came together to voice their support for women all over the globe. In a world inundated with social media, we know more than we ever have about the abuse, inequality, injustice, discrimination, ignorance and violence directed at half of the human race. As one of my favourite placards, carried by a young boy, stated, "When half of us are held back, none of us succeed."

As I wandered back through the crowd to return to my family members, I looked into the faces of the people gathered and suddenly, my eyes filled with tears. It's good to know, in a world that has had more than its share of nastiness lately, that there are people who refuse to be bystanders when it comes to important human issues. Thousands packed up their families or met their friends and came out on a chilly day to cheer on the speakers, including a young Muslim woman who was harrassed for wearing a hijab. She gave an impassioned speech which reminded all present, "The moment you were born was not when you came from your mother's womb; it was the first moment you stood up against injustice."

And that's what most of the people (other than a few hecklers whom the security guards banished from the area) were doing yesterday -- standing up against injustice, marching for kindness' sake. As always, though, the challenge is to turn the goodwill of events like this into action for good: to support organizations that help women leave situations where they live with domestic violence, to give to causes that shore up women's health, education, and employment, to insist upon equality for women in our goverments, workplaces, communities, and churches.

Women are making inroads into many traditionally masculine fields, but they pay high prices for it. My friend Ruth has had to let go of her place in the larger Catholic community for following her God given vocation and being one of the best Catholic priests I know (yes, you read that right). Our premier and other female government members are sexually harassed by online trolls simply because their views don't fit with the trolls' views. Do men in politics get sexually harassed? Rarely. Something's gotta give.

Women "hold up half the sky," as the Raging Grannies noted in one of their songs (or was it a rap?) and yes, men hold up the other half. But what is considered to be women's work is too often denigrated by our partriarchal world, and it's past time to acknowledge that though we may have different gifts or talents, the work of all people, female, male, or LGBTQ, is equally important. Generally speaking, in our society, women are expected to take on the roles that give comfort: to raise and feed families, to care for the sick and elderly, to offer hospitality. Women fight for peace. Women educate children. Women are about tenderness, trust, forgiveness and wisdom. I'm not saying that men can't also be and do these things, but until we have a society that gives women and men equal opportunities and equal pay in every field, this kind of duality will divide rather than unite us.

What men traditionally do, and what women traditionally do, and our LGBTQ family members do, all humans do. Let's be united in our support for one another, no matter the gender involved.

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