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Worldly women

With the celebration of International Women’s Day just around the corner, events have been organized worldwide that acknowledge the contributions of girls and women of all ages to global society.

Here in Canada, the position of women in the national community continues the steep climb to equality in all aspects of life. We have a record high number of women in Parliament, there are now more women enrolled in Canadian universities than men, and more women are holding some of this country’s top jobs than ever before.

With the optimism seen within our borders, it’s sometimes easy for women and men alike to forget the struggles being faced by females in the developing world. And for many of them, it’s a situation that’s getting worse, not better, by the day.

It’s a harsh reality facing today’s global woman: women do two-thirds of the world’s work, yet receive only 10 percent of the world’s income and own just one per cent of the land. Globalization has brought with it a dramatic increase in the world’s need for labourers available to complete highly technical and meticulous tasks quickly and efficiently.

Women living in developing countries have tended to fill these roles in staggering numbers, in some cases comprising up to 90 per cent of the workforce in some electronics manufacturing plants around the world.

The Mexican Maquiladoras are but one example of the exploitation of cheap female labour seen by transnational corporations in pursuit of profit, no matter what the human cost may be. In these manufacturing factories on the border between the United States and Mexico, women are bussed in from slums to manufacture the cell phones and high-definition televisions that will eventually be sold in the global marketplace to consumers unaware of the violations taking place against the human rights of these women workers.

Workers in the Maquiladoras are often subject to compulsory overtime work, poor working conditions, and even mandatory pregnancy testing – all for a daily wage that often doesn’t even reach half of what a Canadian worker is legally required to be paid per hour. What’s worse is that these women, after their shift ends at midnight, are bussed back to their neighbourhoods and left to fend for themselves as they walk to their homes down poorly lit streets where drug cartels and prostitution rings are common practice. The result: over 500 women have been murdered or reported missing in one particularly dangerous region in Mexico, the vast majority of them being employees of the Maquiladoras.

The exploitation seen towards women in the world of globalized labour is only one part of the difficult lives these women of developing countries must live each day.

According to recent statistics gathered by Aurora, an organization that connects business and professional women in order to achieve a more equal workplace, women in developing countries on average carry 20 litres of water per day over six kilometres. This work is unpaid, and is vital to the survival of the woman and her family. Now imagine that this woman is not simply caring for her two or three children, as we would typically see in Western society, but rather has eight children, as well as her and her husband’s parents to look after. It quickly becomes impossible to even fathom the daily struggles faced by women in these situations, and the unfortunate unlikelihood that they will ever have the same educational and career opportunities that Canadian women now consider commonplace.

So, on this International Women’s Day on March 8, give some thought to the international. While it is important for women in this country to appreciate the rights we have achieved, as well as look to the future and the quest for further political and economic equality with men, it is equally essential that we also consider the women in developing countries who have not been afforded the same luxuries.

It is for them, as a recognition of their continued climb towards equality of all types, that International Women’s Day holds its true meaning in today’s global society.