“I haven’t been discriminated against because I’m a woman,” said Véronique Bergeron. “I’ve been discriminated against because I’m a mother.”
Bergeron – a technical writer, holder of two law degrees, creator of a home business and mother of nine children – brought that message to an International Women’s Day event in the Ottawa offices of think-tank Cardus.
Prospective employers would reject her, saying, “You won’t be able to make our 7 a.m. issues management meeting because of your family.”
In a country where fewer of us have children, let alone large families, the plight of the North American woman is that she can be all she wants to be, just don’t bring motherhood into the picture. Our fertility rate perennially hovers well below replacement.
The plight of the woman in the developing world, by contrast, is a lack of economic opportunity even as they welcome babies with dancing and singing.
So it would seem appropriate to do a cultural exchange: we help bring economic opportunity to the developing world, while they help us achieve an open heart to children.
Instead, Canada is exporting our unhealthy attitudes toward families. Indeed, a form of prejudice against women and children was the subtext of the prime minister’s remarks around the massive infusion of funding for “reproductive health” in the developing world on International Women’s Day.
“For far too many women and girls, unsafe abortions and lack of choices in reproductive health mean that they are either at risk … or simply cannot contribute or achieve their potential through education, through involvement in their community, through a broad range of opportunities,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Those words deserve much more scrutiny than they received. The provision of abortion and contraception as a necessity assumes that women are not welcome with all their capacities, including child-bearing. Abortion and contraception assume maleness is the norm to which all must adhere.
Approximately one in four Canadian pregnancies ends in abortion. Taxpayers fund abortion, providing some incentive in that direction. This, alongside the less than subtle “don’t get pregnant” messaging, which starts as early as grade school, leads to girls and women truly never trying to get pregnant until it’s too late.
Canadian women, who can also be mothers, constantly hear that contributing to society means controlling fertility. Babies cost too much, they’re told, and they interrupt education and careers.
The good news is the federal government’s attitude doesn’t wholly reflect those of Canadian women. In a Women’s Day survey conducted via Angus Reid Forum in February, six in 10 women said they believe they are held back for being women and that one in two women believe motherhood is not valued enough.
As Bergeron discovered, these two sentiments are tightly connected. Women, once unjustly held back for our capacity to bear children, are today told this beautiful aspect of being female is, at very best, irrelevant.
More interesting still is the result from the same survey that six in 10 women believe you can be a feminist and pro-life. Only 15 per cent of women believe the two concepts are incompatible. Feminism, it would appear, is a bigger tent than we are led to believe and need not include abortion advocacy or promotion.
Take Obianuju Ekeocha, an empowered woman and the founder of Culture of Life Africa. She writes about how they celebrate each baby born in her remote corner of Nigeria. Growing up, she never witnessed this thing called “post-partum depression.”
If Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky is correct that “the soul is healed by being with children,” then the North American soul needs quite a bit of healing.
The developing world needs a functioning economy. Canada’s latest funding measure for the developing world is fundamentally at odds with the wholeness and vitality of the person, for whom family and children are an intrinsic and beautiful part.
If only Canada would export the ideas that make our economy prosper and Africa would bring us a welcoming attitude toward children. Then, together, we would truly be advancing the cause of human dignity and women’s rights across the globe.
Andrea Mrozek is family program director at Cardus, a public policy think-tank.
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