08/23/2016 12:37 EDT | Updated 08/23/2016 12:59 EDT

Some Ceilings Were Meant To Be Shattered

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business woman under virtual glass ceiling, 3d illustration

There was plenty to be concerned about prior to the Rio Olympics, but they will be remembered by posterity for one key triumph -- not the medals, the venues, the athletes, or the closing ceremonies. In ways that were totally natural and transcendent, the 31st Olympics of the modern era demonstrated the mastery and talent of women competitors.

Yes, a record 87 countries won medals, but the focus was on the success and participation of female athletes from around the world.

New Zealand writer Madeleine Chapman captured an interesting facet of the success of female athletes from her country, stating that, "What's more telling is that the 'cheapest' of the medals - those won in sports that received the least funding - were all won by women."

Sometimes things transpire in international venues that remind us that the fight for gender equality is not only being waged relentlessly, but successfully, and with brilliant achievement. For years we read stories of individual women making their mark by ascending to leadership roles in business, politics, entertainment, non-profit, and in media, among many other fields.

Each success is something we deem another small step on the journey to true equality. Hillary Clinton is now as close to becoming the first women president of the United States as any in history and the ceiling is shaking.

And then something more significant happens, as when Justin Trudeau's newly minted government appointed an equal number of men and women to the federal cabinet. It could have been possible in previous decades, but neither the political will, nor perhaps the understanding was there to make it happen.

Then suddenly it was a reality -- no great hullabaloo, no massive opposition, no panic. Instead came the understanding that we had undersold ourselves and our national identity in previous times, but that Canada really was a public space where we could live out what our ideals were, to at least some degree.

Now our greatest international sports venue can look back at the Rio Olympics and say, "It was there, in Brazil, where we finally broke the gender ceiling -- not through mere fiat, but by supporting the competitiveness and quality of the female athletes themselves.

It is one of the great historical ironies that for the first time in history the Olympics were held on a continent where woman have endured poverty and privation in what used to be a developing nation.

By winning the number of medals they did, female athletes entered a part of the world where women and girls have struggled and magnificently staked their claim for gender equality through sheer accomplishment.

And now we learn that in the other great international venue -- the United Nations -- Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in the sunset of his tenure, used that occasion to promote that his replacement be a woman. We've heard this before, most especially from Stephen Lewis, Canada's former ambassador to the UN, but given all that has transpired regarding gender equality in this past year, one gets the sense that even this great glass ceiling itself might come shattering down, not in conflict, but in celebration of true value.

One could name at least 100 qualified women who have held key international posts both inside and outside the UN who stand ready to lead. The organization itself has spent the last two decades promoting gender equality in every large theatre around the world -- a process that has seen it achieve remarkable success through its own inspired Millennial Development Goals (MDGs) and the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It is likely the UN could carry greater moral authority in this task if it finally selected a woman leader for the first time since its founding in 1945.

"Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture," writes author Chimamanda Adichie. For the first time in all of human history we stand at the threshold of making that possible. The United Nations would do well to hearken to her counsel. The inspired women leaders will themselves take care of the rest.

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