Since my last post, the first Chinese-Canadian recruit to the Royal Canadian Air Force passed away in Richmond at age 101. Tommy Wong was rejected initially when he applied to join in 1939 but eventually recruited after Pearl Harbour in 1941. Every Remembrance Day, we honour the sacrifice of veterans who have made it possible for us to live as we do today, but I had previously not realized the unique contributions of Chinese-Canadian veterans in paving the way for equal rights of Chinese-Canadians under the law. Racism did not end with the second world war, but by 1947, Chinese-Canadians were able to vote and work in professions as pharmacists and accountants, rights that were previously not given to Asians.
Last week, Vancouver’s oldest rape and crisis relief center lost funding from the city. The issue at hand was a dispute over the definition of a women-only space. Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s shelter provides many services, such as a crisis line, a shelter and transitional housing for women and children escaping abusive households, counselling services, legal services, and community outreach and educational activities. Part of their mandate involves carrying some of these activities in women-only spaces. That these spaces are only available to those born female is now the reason why Vancouver has decided to stop its funding of the center.
Growing up, many of my closest friends were male. I went to school with, spend my free time with, and work with a good mix of men and women. I do feel extra vigilant when I am walking by myself at night, even in the familiar streets of my own neighbourhood and there are places in the world I would not travel to without male company. But, more often than not, I do not feel intimidated, disrespected, scared, or threatened because I am a woman. I would not choose to go to a women-only gym (unless it was for another factor, like the equipment, location, or price), nor do I feel a need to find a female family doctor (mine happens to be a man).
I have been fortunate.
These may not (and I suspect, are not) the experiences of the women who benefit from the services of Vancouver Rape Relief.
In an ideal world, there shouldn’t be a need for women-only spaces. But as it is, there are still women, through no fault of their own, who need a women-only space in order to feel safe – safe enough to take the first steps towards a life where they may heal from past trauma, regain control of their own lives, and perhaps even learn to trust men again.
There has been a lot of press coverage celebrating this move as a victory for equal rights. It was not long ago that we recognized that “All Lives Matter” is a response to “Black Lives Matter” that misses the point. Similarly, celebrating inclusion at the expense of the needs of a vulnerable population in society is in itself a form of discrimination.
This comic so aptly describes the reality of many working women.
The increasing number of women in the workplace, particularly in traditionally male-dominated fields indicates a move towards equal opportunities for men and women. But, while this is a success, it paints an incomplete picture of the struggle towards equality. The flip side of the coin is much harder to accurately measure – that is, how much are men taking on traditionally female roles in the mental load and practical tasks involved in building a home and raising a family?
Even in the most supportive work environment where opportunities are offered equally to women and men, the enablement to act on those opportunities is often unequal given commitments outside of work.