Women in the Hall
Late that summer many years ago, my student job had ended and I was soon to return to university. Heart pulsing hard in my throat, I entered city hall and walked over to the Director’s office. His Executive Secretary greeted me with a questioning smile and ushered me into the municipal head man’s office. The Director kindly asked me to be seated. Cheeks flushed, voice tight, I explained why I was there.
All summer, I had watched as Mr. M., my boss and the person in charge of hiring for the municipality, directed men to certain positions and women to others; an illegal practise, according to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which hung proudly on the door to Mr. M.’s office.
Students came to us to apply for summer jobs with the city, wanting to be attendants at outdoor sport installations, mow the grass in municipal parks, lifeguard at city pools and work as clerk-typists - as I had. “How are your typing skills?”, Mr. M. would ask a young woman entering the office. To a young man: “How strong are you?” and: “How big are you?”.
At one point, I suggested Mr. M. hire a student with a gender-neutral name for a summer position in the parks. At first, he said yes, it looked like an interesting candidate, based on the person’s qualifications. When he discovered the student was a woman: “No, she’s not the right person for the job.”
Over the summer, I took careful notes of Mr. M.’s actions, and even photocopied staff requisition forms on which he - or other city managers - had written “Woman” as the sex required for a particular position. All this I brought to the Director and laid out before him, with trepidation and determination for women’s equal rights.
The following summer, I rode a city bus by one of that municipality’s parks. As I saw two young women mowing the grass and planting flowers for the new warm season, tears sprang to my eyes: justice!
I realized then that even one person, documenting and naming injustice, can make a difference. That was the beginning of a commitment to women’s rights activism, which continues to this day and will do until my last breath on this earth.