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July 16, 2021

An ode to girls and women of all ages

An ode to girls and women of all ages

When I opened my eyes this morning, I knew right away that I had been dreaming about the former mayor of Mississauga, Hazel McCallion. I had the privilege of meeting her for the first time in December 2001, at the official opening of the first Cora restaurant in Ontario and then again at the mayoral office afterwards. She is an exceptional woman, who makes an unforgettable impression.  

After a few cups of coffee and 15 minutes of breathing in the natural world around my home, my affection for women and their cause has suddenly taken over my entire admiring brain. A rustle of an angel invites me to celebrate the extraordinary value of women. Yes, you read that right. It’s not March 8th, but this attentive angel tells me that brave women deserve to be celebrated every day. And I agree wholeheartedly.

In fact, I had to do a little investigating to discover why March 8th was chosen. It turns out the date has its own “pedigree.”

The idea for March 8th was first proposed by a German journalist/politician as "International Women's Day" in 1910.

In 1917, on March 8th, the women workers of Saint Petersburg protested against their working conditions and subsequently obtained the right to vote.

In 1945, after the Second World War, March 8th became “Mother's Day."

Much later in 1977, March 8th was officially recognized by the United Nations as "International Women's Day."

And finally in France in 1982, March 8th became "International Women's Rights Day."

Nowadays, March 8th is a moment to take stock of women’s status around the world. That is, “to point out the inequalities that persist and to celebrate the victories that have been achieved.” In short, a lot of words to pay homage to progress that I find wholly unsatisfying.

Just 100 years ago, the ruling class invoked the weakness of the “fairer sex” to undermine the women's suffrage movement. Women lacked intelligence and mental stability they said. According to the beliefs of the day, women did not have the qualities required to vote. And being involved in politics would interfere with their family duties and their role as mothers and wives. Too fragile to be on an electoral list, women should be shielded from jury duty and stories of sexual crimes. Too uneducated, knowing nothing of economics, commerce, war and law, women remained ignorant for too long.

Fortunately, a lady named Ida Steinberg, 26 years old and head of a Hungarian family, opened Montreal’s first supermarket in order to feed her children. She taught her children how to work, and it was her son Sam who later transformed the family business into a thriving chain of over 100 stores.

And then there was Hazel McCallion, born on February 14, 1921, in Port Daniel, in the Gaspé, to parents who ran a fishing company. She got into business at a very young age, taking care of the accounting and employee payroll for the family business.

Fortunately, she continued her education and landed a job as a secretary at a large engineering firm, where she was given increasingly bigger responsibilities. Hazel herself explained to me that this valuable business experience eventually inspired her to enter politics. A former professional field hockey player, Hazel is celebrating her 100th birthday this year, and no doubt her great success as mayor of Mississauga for 36 consecutive years. We once laughed together because Mme Hazel, like me, is fond of fish and broccoli. Like me, she also shares an obsession with fiscal discipline, and especially, debt-free management.

She made a career in two male-dominated fields – business and politics – and succeeded with flying colours at a time when less than 50% of Canadian women were professionally active. Under her leadership, Hazel transformed a sleepy suburb of Toronto into a prosperous, debt-free manufacturing hub. I have admired her greatly and am certain that her exemplary career will motivate many women.

All my life I have been inspired by intrepid heroines. Women who were not afraid to be avant-garde, blaze new trails and achieve notable firsts, such as Marie Curie, the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize; Rosa Parks, a major figure in the fight against racial segregation; Kathrine Switzerland, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon; and Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to go into space.

And so many other incredible women who have paved the road to success for us.

By attending businesswomen’s networking events, I quickly learned that most women possess very valuable qualities: creativity, an innate sense of customer service, the ability to network, the talent to take on complex situations, experience in mediation, the ability to set goals and measure risks, and a magical quality – a sharp sense of thriftiness. Women are realistic, modest and humble; able to juggle several projects and put all aspects into balance. They are loyal, faithful to a cause and enthusiastic in their commitment. They use emotion, not just reason, to interact with their colleagues and resolve conflicts.

And I haven’t forgotten the courage, devotion and generosity of all the planet’s mothers and female nurses, teachers, doctors and caregivers.

There are so many extraordinary women on the planet that we could create a different celebration every day ad vitam æternam.

Virtually impossible, you say?

Well, all we have to do is love our daughters, educate them properly, honour our femininity and the femininity of the females around us, and thank all the women who have played an important role in our lives.