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Is Canada's Revised Anthem Gender Neutral Or Gender Equal?

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As Canada Day approaches, have you ever thought about who has the right to be patriotic? For decades patriotism has been gendered male -- take, for instance, Canada's icon of patriotism, the Mountie (a quick Google image search proves this point).

But on June 15, 2016, the Canadian government approved MP Mauril Bélanger's O'Canada amendment act (Bill C-210) and symbolically opened up patriotism to everyone, no matter their gender. Once rubber stamped by the senate later this year, our anthem's "true patriot love" will be "in all of us command," rather than "in all thy sons command."

I salute this change. But what I find problematic is that the media coverage of our new anthem labels it "gender neutral." The reason the gender neutral brand is problematic is that it drowns out the importance of what "in all of us command" signals: the growing commitment to gender equality in Canada.

You might be wondering if calling our new anthem gender equal versus gender neutral is just a matter of semantics. Here's why it's not: using the gender neutral adjective in place of gender equal forces us to wade into the murky and benign waters of political correctness where gender is inconsequential.

But gender matters, and how we talk about gender matters. Thus, the change in the anthem's lyrics is incredibly significant because it is part of a gender equality movement in Canada and around the world that is transforming power relations across social, economic and political spheres, and is addressing the social and cultural norms that perpetuate inequality in all its forms.


Sandra is a member of Plan-supported girls economic empowerment group in Zambia (Photo Credit: Plan International).

The hard work of revamping power relations and dismantling the norms that undergird inequalities, both here at home and abroad, is by no means easy. Through the Because I am a Girl initiative, Plan International Canada, is championing a global movement for gender equality.

However, we still face challenges: we know that women and girls are inherently powerful, yet they are excluded from social, political and economic spheres due to the persistence of gender-based discrimination. For example, globally 15 million girls under 18 will be married each year, girls are also twice as likely to suffer from malnutrition as boys, and more than 62 million girls are not attending either primary or secondary school. And here in Canada, a survey commissioned by Plan found that three times as many women as men felt they have been held back in some way because of their gender.

On a daily basis Plan International Canada's work demonstrates why we need to continue to be gender transformative by challenging power structures at all levels where inequalities exist and multiply, including households, communities, schools, and governments.

This is why the move to update Canada's national anthem by making it gender equal is critical: once implemented, our new anthem will be sung by millions of people from coast to coast. Imagine the message this anthem will send to our children who will, for the first time, be equally represented when they sing it in their classrooms every morning.


Members of Plan International Canada's Because I am a Girl Speakers Bureau at Plan's Girl Empowerment Forum (Photo: Plan International Canada).

There's nothing neutral about each and every person being able to affirm their equality and express something as important as pride in their identity--including being a Canadian. And while it may be the case that part of the Canadian identity is the ideal we are all equals, and that Canada has a feminist Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, at its helm, there's still much work to be done to achieve gender equality in this country: take for instance the fact that on average a full-time working Canadian woman makes 73.5 cents for every dollar a man earns, and indigenous women and girls are disproportionately affected by violence, homicides, and disappearances.

What should give us hope is that with each year Canada grows older, it strives to become more gender equal. Our new anthem symbolizes this and declares that gender equality, just like true patriot love, is in everyone's command. This Canada Day, let's all sing its praises.

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