Saturday, July 13, 2024

Pontiac women reflect on International Women’s Day

To mark International Women’s Day, which occurs every year on Mar. 8, the team at THE EQUITY spoke with women across the Pontiac
about what this day means to them. Their reflections have been edited for clarity and space.

Denise Fitzpatrick – Chapeau
Beef farmer and retired nurse

“My dad gave me a chainsaw when I was 10 years old and he said ‘You come with me.’ He cut the trees and I cut the branches. As a kid, I wanted to be independent and do my own thing, and be just like a man. I was always a feminist when I was young and then I married a farmer, so out the door went the feminist. I still have power, but it’s different. I’m still very independent, it’s just that it’s very hard when you’re on a farm because the housework can’t be shared. In Quebec, we have pretty much equal status. Right now there’s more women in university than there are men. And they’re not just into nursing. I think we’re well on our way to be equal. But if women want to be treated equal, they have to make themselves be respected. I find education is good for power. If you’re a little more educated you’ll have more power. It’s very important to celebrate International Women’s Day. There are a lot of issues we have to deal with. We have to keep working towards more independence and equality, because there are still some men that are very aggressive. The violence against women, they really need to do something about that. They can’t keep waiting until the women are dead. Women’s Day helps with this because if you don’t talk about it there’s not going to be any progress.” —- as told to Sophie Kuijper Dickson

Debra Stephens – Shawville
Director of the Pontiac Continuing Education Centre

“I don’t feel like I have encountered direct obstacles because I’m a woman. That said, I’m also a pretty assertive personality. I was raised on a farm and I would say I was raised to feel like I could do anything. My mother worked as hard as my father and could do, even though she was tiny, all the physical stuff that he could do, so I never really thought a lot about gender roles. I had the absolute privilege to go to Trent University, which was big into women’s studies and it was the first time I encountered learning about issues in terms of gender. Maybe I’ve just been fortunate. I’ve dealt with people who’ve always treated me fair, I don’t think I was ever thought of as being diminished because I was a woman. But I think that it is still challenging for women in certain trades, especially trades that have been predominantly male, but I think we’ve really come a long way in the last few decades, and I think it’s important for us not to take it for granted, so I think International Women’s Day is important. The rights that we have, that our mothers and grandmothers fought for so that we would be able to have control over our bodies . . . I think it is important to be remembering that, and not let any gains that we’ve made over generations be lost.” —- as told to Camilla Faragalli

Gene O’Brien – Chapeau
Retired IT worker, president of the Chapeau Agricultural Society

“I worked for 35 years in a male-dominated industry servicing on-site computers. I can’t say that being a woman created obstacles for me, because I was probably a trailblazer in my own career and was always treated, I believe, very fairly. I always had excellent bosses. I don’t know if the men were paid better than me, that was sort of confidential. But I raised a family, had four kids, sometimes I’d bypass having to go away from home on training to be with my children, and it was never held against me. When I graduated highschool, 99 per cent of the girls that were graduating were going into more female-oriented fields. But now I think it’s really flipping more, because we’re starting at a younger age where young girls can say, ‘oh I can do that.’ My granddaughter, for example, wants to be an electrician! It’s really changed, and I think it’s changing itself because of the way girls are educated when they’re young. I definitely think International Women’s Day is a way to promote the contributions that a lot of women have been making to all of their communities that have sort of been overshadowed.” —- as told to Camilla Faragalli

Julianne Dooks – Sand Bay
Customer service worker

“I think it is important to mark International Women’s Day, even if it is just reflecting on progress society has made. It is easy to take for granted things that seem so basic, like voting, having your own bank account, or even autonomy over our reproductive health, but I think it’s important not to forget how hard won those things were, and to not be complacent when it comes to maintaining those rights. International Women’s Day is a great reminder of that. I don’t feel my gender has created obstacles for me. I’ve gone through struggles in my life just like anybody else, but I don’t feel I can attribute those, nor my successes, to my gender. I can’t speak for all women, but in my opinion, it’s important to continue to empower girls and women and encourage them to pursue whatever they dream of! I think it’s also important to be on the lookout for any erosions of the rights we enjoy today, in particular in regards to bodily autonomy. Just looking at how things have changed south of the border in recent years, we can’t take for granted things women in the past have fought so hard for.”
Dooks and her wife have been living in Sand Bay for about five years. She works part-time at the House of Inspiring Flowers and part-time at Café 349. —- as told to Glen Hartle

Lise Romain – Fort-Coulonge
Conseillère municipale

« La Journée internationale des femmes est pertinente et nécessaire, » affirme Lise Romain pour qui cette journée permet de faire le point sur « ce qui va et ne va pas ». Si elle se dit heureuse de certains progrès accomplis (congé de maternité, retrait préventif des femmes enceintes, réforme du code civil qui a permis aux femmes de garder leur nom de famille), la native de Fort-Coulonge s’inquiète néanmoins pour l’avenir. « Ce qui se passe aux États-Unis – l’invalidation de l’arrêt Roe c. Wade – est un rappel préoccupant de la fragilité de certains acquis, affirme-t-elle. Une fragilité qu’ont mis en évidence plus près de nous les nombreux féminicides recensés au cours des dernières années. »
L’ancienne syndicaliste et présidente du Parti Québécois dans le Pontiac (1977 à 1985) invite la génération montante à faire preuve de vigilance, mais aussi de fortitude. « Il y a encore bien des batailles à mener, notamment en matière d’équité salariale et de protection des femmes violentées, dit-elle. Il faut s’assurer que le pouvoir soit mieux partagé pour obtenir des changements. » —- Comme raconté à Pierre Cyr

France Lavoie – Mansfield
Enseignant à la retraite

France Lavoie croit que la Journée internationale pour le droit des femmes est encore très d’actualité. Elle perçoit des reculs sur certains aspects. L’hypersexualisation chez les adolescentes est un exemple qui lui indique que la bataille n’est pas gagnée. Lavoie voit également que les femmes d’aujourd’hui vivent avec une charge émotive importante liée aux pressions sociales de bien performer à tout niveau. «Je ne vois pas beaucoup de papas venir aux rencontres d’écoles pour leurs enfants, dit Lavoie. J’en voyais plus au début de ma carrière.» L’équilibre des rôles parentaux n’est pas encore bien reparti selon elle. « Je n’ai pas eu à vivre cette pression en élevant ma famille, affirme Lavoie. Nous avons un devoir de mémoire envers celles qui ont lutté. Le travail est encore immense dans notre communauté. Les stéréotypes de genre sont encore très présents.» Lavoie remarque que les vêtements unisexes sont plus rares de nos jours. Les lois restreignant l’accès à l’avortement présentent dans encore dans 25% des états américains sont un bon exemple que la bataille des droits n’est pas gagnée selon Lavoie.
Lavoie a pris sa retraite après presque 35 ans dans l’enseignement préscolaire. Elle travaille toujours dans le milieu de l’éducation. Elle est mère de trois enfants maintenant adultes. —- Comme raconté à Pierre St-Cyr

Ruth Hahn – Clarendon
Owner of Café 349

“If women want equality then I believe the media needs to stop promoting International Women’s Day. We need to celebrate the person, not the gender. I have, in life and as a person in business, received nothing but respect from both men and women. Let us unify as a people!”
Hahn has owned and operated Café 349 in Shawville for the past 22 years. Ruth was born and raised in the area and has lived with her husband on Killoran Lake for the past 35 years. —- as told to Glen Hartle

Emma Judd – Shawville

“For a lot of women who tend to be a little bit more quiet about our accomplishments, International Women’s Day is the day where we do get to be recognized. I think in Canada, we’re decent on equality rights and laws. In government there’s lots of opportunities for women and recognition there. But socially, societally, I still think there’s a decent amount of work to be done. People make offhand comments that are not meant to be damaging, but that still mean something coming from that older place of values. I’ve faced it in renovating my house. It’s not always, ‘where’s your husband,’ but it’s ‘where’s your dad,’ things like that. I understand I’m young, but I’m also a woman. People in the trade are surprised when I know what I’m talking about. If I know something that they don’t, they don’t know how to talk to me anymore or they don’t want to talk to me at all. But I think we’re definitely getting better.”
Judd is in the process of renovating an old brick home in Shawville which she will soon open as a Bed & Breakfast. —- as told to Camilla Faragalli

Megan Tubman – Bristol
Welding teacher at Pontiac High School

“International Women’s Day recognizes the women that work in male-dominated industries and helps promote their efforts. In the last few years I’ve found that the percentage of women working has significantly increased in traditionally male-dominated areas, but I think there needs to be more recognition and more acceptance of women in industry. I just find I always have to prove myself. I feel like I have to really overdo my quality of work to be recognized on the same level as a man, like I have to show off my skills a little bit more to get the same recognition. Especially when I was younger. I would say it is important that society marks the day, but I think everything is moving forward in a positive way.” —- as told to Camilla Faragalli

Stéphanie Paré – Fort-Coulonge

Infirmière clinicienne

Paré travaille dans le domaine de la santé depuis 1997. Elle est mère de deux jeunes femmes. Elle trouve très important de souligner la lutte des droits des femmes le 8 mars. « 365 jours par année, la femme doit être respectée. On a travaillé fort pour avoir nos droits et pour nous démarquer dans un monde où les hommes prédominent.» Elle affirme ne pas avoir vécu d’intimidation en soi. Elle n’a pas choisi le métier d’infirmière parce qu’elle associe ce travail à une femme. Elle considère que les hommes peuvent tout autant avoir les qualités pour être en mesure de prodiguer des soins infirmiers. Pour Paré, il reste quand même moins de travail à faire pour l’équité des genres, mais il en restera toujours. Les femmes elles-mêmes doivent être plus solidaires. Il y a de moins en moins de milieux exclusivement réservés aux hommes. Les femmes doivent persévérer pour briser les plafonds de verre. Son message aux jeunes femmes est «Vise les étoiles, il n’y a pas de limite.» Il y aura toujours place pour l’amélioration conclut Paré. —- Comme raconté à Pierre Cyr