International Women’s Day – Why I March…

I march for the women who raised me.

I march for the women I love.

I march for the women who can’t march.

This one is coming a few days late because I wanted to share my experience at Toronto’s International Women’s Day March which took place downtown yesterday afternoon, just a few days after actual International Women’s Day on March 8th. I was away for the Women’s March in January but after watching the swell and excitement of solidarity on social media and the broader internet I wished I had been there. When I heard about this march I knew I couldn’t miss out so Keeragh and I headed downtown yesterday to join the rally and march the streets.

Immediately as we came up from the subway and looked across the street we could see crowds of people heading onto the university campus towards where the rally was supposed to be so we followed suit. Moving through the buildings we soon found ourselves amongst a throng of people congregating, waiting to march. What we didn’t know then was how many more would join.

Shortly after 1PM, calls for organization were made. Groups marching under the larger banners were brought to the front and the rest of us remained congregated just behind. We marched up to the back of Queen’s Park and it was as we came up the hill that I looked back to see how many of us there were. Thousands, a thick crowd spreading all the way back towards our starting point. All sexes, all genders, all races, all ages… diversities of all types, marching together, creating a mass that could not be ignored. We marched down the major streets of downtown with the help of some exceptional Toronto Police Officers who moved up and blocked off traffic from the route as we pushed forward. We marched for just under two hours in the wind and the cold, taking up space and demanding to be seen.

There wasn’t a thing that could take the smile off of my face. The surge of energy I had felt just looking at the women’s march footage from January was now tripled from being there myself and my heart raced as drums beat out from behind us and marchers called out their fight into the air. Every time you turned your head there was a new sign to read:

“Equal pay for equal work.”

“I’m with her.”

“Accessible childcare now.”

“Harry would have died without Hermione.”

It went on and on, the words of every sign empowering us to march further, to ignore the bitter cold and keep our heads up high. Workers watched from store windows, cars blared their horns in solidarity, a woman on the sidewalk stopped and held her fist in the air. We were seen. We were heard.

The biggest thing I took from this experience is the wide range of issues represented in a march like this. At any given point we found ourselves amongst different groups of marchers, marching for a different reason. Chants came from each of the groups, never overlapping each other but respectively existing in their own space. One followed the other, calls for justice and equality rang through the air.

Whose streets? Our streets!

Whose bodies? Our bodies!

Whose rights? Our rights!

At one point we found ourselves amongst a large group of Spanish speaking individuals who stood together marching in memory of the 39 girls killed in a fire at an overcrowded youth shelter in Guatemala. I don’t speak any Spanish but the moment their voices called out in pained passion the visceral reaction I felt shattered that language barrier. One of the women in particular called out without a megaphone, her voice, thunderous over the crowd and her passion present in every foreign syllable we listened to. In that moment we marched for the girls who had been killed.

Calls for equal pay came next, union and non-union workers marching in solidarity, demanding a living wage and pay equity. We echoed their shouts, crying out for the women who have to work twice as hard as men for lesser pay and recognition. In that moment I was every woman who deserves more for their work, whose sex has been used to determine her worth.

After some time, rainbow signs soon floated overhead, a new colourful wave of emotion spreading around us. One woman’s sign boldly stated “Bisexuals are just confused about your bigotry.” and another’s “Women love women”. In that moment I marched for the women who do not fit the heteronormative role placed upon them, drilled into them from a young age, the women who are seen as less because of who they are and who they love.

The diversity of the ones we stood in solidarity with brought a smile to my lips the whole time, my cheeks ached and not just from the cold. Women and men, old and young, of every colour and creed imaginable, standing together not just for one cause but for many.

I watched men stand beside the women in their lives: fathers, brothers, boyfriends, husbands, sons, and friends. I watched them march with us, their voices never booming over, their bodies never pushing us out of this space. I was reminded of my boyfriend who couldn’t join us because he had to work. I was reminded of how far he’s come, how much he’s learned. He has carried us for the past few months while I’ve struggled to find work but he’s never tried to hold it over my head, he puts the work in both in and out of the home, he supports me and lifts me up rather than putting me down. I marched for him.

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I watched as friends united during the march, finding each other amongst the crowd. I personally marched beside my best friend, a woman who I haven’t always seen eye to eye with but has become my sister. We’ve been friends for over ten years and knowing her has made me stronger, it’s helped shape me into the woman I am today. I’ve learned so much from being friends with other women whom I share as many differences with as I share similarities. I wish they could have all been there with us but I had them in my heart, thankful for all the lessons I’ve learned just from knowing them, from loving them. I marched for them.

I listened to parents teach their young children, not just their daughters but their sons too. I was reminded of my mother who would have marched with us as well. From a young age she taught me I could do anything. There were no limits. There was not one right path because I was a girl. She taught me to be open and understanding, she gave me a safe place to speak and to explore in many ways that others can’t. She opened her heart to the other girls I surrounded myself with, she taught them too. I knew she would have been there with us had she not had to work. I marched for her.

I hope you had a wonderful International Women’s Day. I hope you get to spend your days with women you love and women who inspire you. I’ve found a lot of inspiration in so many of you from reading your stories so I want to take this moment to thank you too, for enriching my life and giving me even more women to look up to. You are strong. You are powerful. You are everything.

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