Carolyn Bennett March 6th, 2015

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A salute to my amazing role models

And an invitation to help make equality happen

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It is impossible to celebrate International Women’s Day every March 8 without thinking of my amazing role models.

My grandmother Caroline Denby opened the Violet Flower Shop at St. Clair and Yonge in 1928 because her husband, a house painter, was unable to support the family in those difficult times. Five years later, at 16, my mother dropped out of Northern Secondary School to open up a second branch of the flower shop at Eglinton and Oriole Parkway. She met my dad, a policeman in the Forest Hill Department, and they went into business together when he returned from WWII.

She was the Eunice of Eunice Denby Flowers.

I think it’s because of them that I have to admit that, as a little girl, I didn’t really understand feminism. I lived it and wasn’t exposed to the need to fight for it. In our family, my mother was a very dominant force. My sister and I were always surrounded by amazing women, most of whom had never married after the war, and all of whom inspired us with their impressive careers — professor, actuary, travel agent, banker, educator.

We always referred to them as our “other mothers” and they expected a lot of us. They were always there to celebrate our successes and were there for us when things didn’t go so well. They were right there with me when I was suddenly confronted with the misogyny of medical school and then began to share their stories of their ongoing struggles for equality and meritocracy.

Most of them have passed on now. My mother would have been 100 this year.

I continue to be surrounded by incredible women and I am blessed with the friendships of pioneers like Ursula Franklin, Monique Begin and Sally Armstrong and fearless champions in all generations — particularly in the fight to put an end to the tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Every day they remind me of the work we still have to do in order to achieve real equality for women and girls here in Canada and around the world.

This year the theme for International Women’s Day is Make It Happen. The “It” is equality!

Once again I am pleased to work with our committed school trustees Shelley Laskin and JoAnn Davis as hosts to some of the emerging young women leaders from our schools to talk about how to make it happen. We will first test ourselves with a Canadian HERstory quiz. Then we will be joined by a panel of role models: Elisha Muskat, executive director of Ashokah Canada; Celia Smith, president of Artscape; Sylvia Maracle, executive director of the Indigenous Friendship Centres; and Debra Black, journalist at the Toronto Star. They will share their experiences with the students and then participate in small group sessions as we conspire about the actions we can all take towards true equality for women and girls.

Human rights activist, MP and former Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler once asked me on his cable show, “What is the most pressing issue facing women in Canada?”. I responded, “Everything we care about and are fighting for rests in many different government departments and straddles all jurisdictions. It’s like we’re in gridlock.”

So, I couldn’t be happier that on March 8 our semi-annual Toronto-St. Paul’s Summit with MPP Dr. Eric Hoskins, councillors Josh Matlow, Joe Mihevc and Josh Colle, and our school trustees will focus on women’s equality – “Making It Happen”. We hope you will be able to join us to share your views on the barriers and solutions to achieving the shared objective of a Canada where women and girls are truly equal, not only under the law, but in the reality of their lives.