President's message – International Women’s Day

Today, on International Women’s Day, we honour the achievements of women’s union activism and the profound impact they have had – while recognizing there is much more work to do to achieve equality. 

International Women’s Day has been commemorated since the early twentieth century and has its roots in the labour movement. In 1908, thousands of female garment workers in New York went on strike, demanding shorter working hours and better pay, along with the right to vote. 

By 1911, International Women’s Day had spread to Europe, with more than a million women marching in Austria-Hungary, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland for female suffrage, the right to hold public office, and an end to employment discrimination. 

In January 1912, 14,000 female textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts went on strike for better wages and working conditions. The strike lasted for three months and united immigrant communities and working women under the slogan “bread for all, and roses too!” The slogan became a rallying cry for the international women’s movement and, later, an anthem for the labour movement.  

Since then, women in countries around the globe have marked International Women’s Day as they fight for equal rights at work, in the home, and throughout society. 

I want to recognize the leadership of cis and trans women at every level of our union. CAPE’s membership is comprised of more than 60% women, and everywhere women are leading the fight for equality and justice for all – from members and stewards, to locals, and the National Executive Committee. For the first time, women are the majority of the director positions. This is an important step towards ensuring that our union leadership is truly representative of those we represent.

Still, more needs to be done. We need intersectional voices around the table to develop more effective policies and ensure that solutions work for everyone. Our workplaces, our communities and our world are better when women have equal access and opportunity to participate. We must fight to honour and properly compensate both the paid and unpaid labour of cis and trans women that make our society work. 

A recent study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has found that, while Canada’s public sector is much closer to achieving pay equity than the private sector, there’s still a 5% gap that needs to be closed. 

CAPE, along with other federal public sector unions, is working to eliminate that 5% and ensure the Government of Canada meets its pay equity commitment. Equal pay for work of equal value seems so simple and yet the work needed to achieve it is telling. The resistance to a single plan for the core public administration – by a government that has prided itself on its feminist ethos – is one example of the roadblocks to true equality. 

Progress is slow, but it’s happening precisely because women organized to fight back. So today, let’s honour the women in our lives by committing ourselves to continue organizing to ensure that progress leads to a fair and equal world.