April 2014 - International Women’s Day isn’t just about equality in the workplace

Saturday, March 8 was International Women’s Day. While many may not be aware of this important day, SEIU Healthcare members across the GTA joined thousands of their Sisters and Brothers as they marched for women’s rights in downtown Toronto.

Contrary to what most people believe, the battle for women’s rights hasn’t been won yet. There is still a great deal of inequality in the workplace - and in the home. An important issue that continues to plague our communities is domestic violence. According to Statistics Canada, one-half of all women have been physically or sexually assaulted since the age of 16.

One of those women is SEIU Healthcare member Mina Amrith. Many years ago she was a victim of domestic violence. Her situation at home was so bad that she had to flee her abusive husband with her three children. However, she didn’t have another home to turn to. As Mina explains, “I needed to stay at a women’s shelter. It was a life and death situation for me but the shelter turned me away. The waiting list was very long and they didn’t have any space for me. They had no room and no funding.”

Sadly, this is not an unusual narrative. Every day, more than 3,300 women (along with their 3,000 children) across Canada are forced to sleep in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence. Every night, about 200 women are turned away because the shelters are full. 

Things eventually turned around for Mina. Today, she is a full-time nurse at Sunnybrook Hospital. She is the Chair of SEIU Healthcare Women’s Committee and an active member of the women’s rights movement. Her message to women: “Violence does not hurt only the person who experiences it, it hurts the whole community.  We need essential services for survivors; health services, shelters, telephone hotlines, police, justice and legal aid. Women must organize in groups and raise a collective voice. We must support, encourage and empower one another.”

International Women’s Day is an opportunity for us to combat abuse and inequality against half of the members of our population. It’s also a reminder that inequality doesn’t just happen outside in the workplace or at school, but often begins in the home. The two issues work hand in hand.

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