International Women’s day is an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments while also pressing forward to ensure equality for women globally. Each year is designated with a specific theme; this year’s theme is Choose to Challenge.
Choose to Challenge encourages us all—men, women and nonbinary alike—to challenge our assumptions, our stereotypes, our mentality of “because it’s always been this way.” We are choosing to say “it doesn’t HAVE to be this way”.
Indeed, it is generations of women who have continually chosen to challenge assumptions and stereotypes who paved the way for greater levels of equality today as compared to fifty, sixty, or seventy years ago.
I want to pay homage to a host of women we have served who actively Choose to Challenge the system and forged the way for many of the opportunities from which I and my cohort have benefitted.
Over the past 14 years, Warm Embrace Elder Care has served countless incredible women who were primarily in their 80’s and 90’s and some who were even over 100 years old! We have had the distinct honour of learning about their lives, the hardships they faced, the battles they fought, and all the challenges they chose to overcome.
These women were born in the 1920’s or early 1930’s. They were born after the First World War had ended and the soldiers returned from war. They were raised through the Depression Era of the 1930’s and were coming of age during WWII. Women of that generation were expected to marry and have children…often when they were barely older than children themselves. While that was the expected narrative, many of our clients Chose to Challenge the stereotypes and forge their own paths.
Administrative & Management
Warm Embrace Elder Care has served women who all worked in clerical settings, but would not accept the title or role of Secretary. Instead, one woman became an Accountant and ran her own company, eventually expanding it to include three partners and she remained one of the principal partners until her retirement. Another woman worked as a Claims Specialist for the Workman’s Compensation Board of Ontario, and someone else became a Supervisor over a whole team of employees at the local tax office. In her late retirement, the Supervisor would regale our caregivers with stories of how she and the women in her office would manage to improve conditions for women—sometimes by following the rules and playing within the system, and sometimes from being very creative with bending those rules!
Then there are the women who insisted upon proceeding with higher education, and in many different subject areas. One woman we served was instrumental at the Veterinary College at the University of Guelph and travelled extensively to help with research and the founding of other veterinary colleges internationally. She had a fascinating career that spanned decades and took her to every continent. Upon retirement from the University, she started her own consulting company to keep her busy and actively engaged in the community well into her senior years. Warm Embrace Elder Care was honoured to serve her in her later senior years, and at any mention of a research study, she would sit up straight, lean forward, and look you straight in the eye while asking detailed questions. Her thirst for knowledge never waned; she continually wanted to learn more and remain on the forefront of academic research.
Another client of ours earned her PhD in chemistry as the first woman in her field, and went on to become a Chemistry Professor with numerous accolades to her name. She can recount stories of when she was the only female professor in the sciences and her classes were all male students too. Today we are still encouraging young women to enter the STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics) programs of study, but it is thanks to the women who have passed before us that the conversation today is about how to have even more young women in STEM; the conversation is no longer simply about whether women should be permitted in STEM subjects at all.
One of our clients had a twinkle in her eye that continued to shine until the very end. She had a zest for life and a deep concern for the well-being of others. Today, she might have been called a Social Justice Warrior. In her time, she was a woman on a mission. She was so frustrated at the local societal support for women that she took it upon herself to found and then fund what is today known as Anselma House. She was passionate about helping women to escape domestic violence and then supporting them to start a new life. She had so hoped to eradicate domestic violence in her lifetime. Over a decade ago at a ribbon cutting for a new shelter, she was quoted as saying “I resent that we need this building today,” and in 2021 we continue to need Anselma House as much as the day it was founded in 1978. Her passion and tireless advocacy are behind some of the social support systems that are still in operation today.
There’s a woman whose accomplishments in the 1960’s and 1970’s would still be considered gender-barrier-shattering even by today’s standards! She founded her own construction company and went head-to-head with the major developers in the region. Involved in both residential and commercial development, her construction company was known for quality and unique design. Owning her own business was certainly an accomplishment; to have done so in a male-dominated field is even more impressive!
Each of these incredible women faced barriers that they had to overcome; they each Chose to Challenge gender expectations, stereotypes and assumptions. They were often the only woman at the board room table or in the professor’s lounge. They proceeded with excellence and demonstrated that women deserve to be at the table. It is thanks to their fortitude that it is no longer ground breaking to find a woman starting her own company, or to see a female professor in the STEM programs.
To all of these inspirational women who were clients of Warm Embrace Elder Care, I want to say THANK YOU for Choosing to Challenge the assumptions that you did which have led to increased opportunities for women today. You have passed the torch, and this generation will carry your work forward as we continually Choose to Challenge for today’s women and for future generations.