For some of you, the finish line is in sight.
You can see how close you are to gender equality. And you know you can cross that line if you just keep pressing forward.
But for many of you, the finish line is nowhere to be seen. You're focused on hurdling discrimination and vaulting barriers in your path. Race. Culture. Violence. Poverty. It's one step forward, two steps back.
For so long, the focus of advancing gender equality has been on closing gaps between men and women.
But true equity is not just about closing gender gaps.
It's about addressing barriers and discrimination women and girls face on top of our gender. And those barriers, if they continue to go unaddressed, mean that gaps will persist not only between men and women, but also among women.
As someone who has dedicated her life to removing barriers for women and girls so they can reach their full potential, it's not good enough to have only some of us reach the finish line. In fact, it could be downright counterproductive: complacency among those who have made it could mean they stop pushing for the rights of their sisters who have been left behind. In the wise words of Rosemary Brown, one of the Foundation's founding mothers and the first African-Canadian woman elected to a provincial legislature, "Until all of us have made it, none of us have made it."
That's why, on International Women's Day, we have to feel that urgency to support each other and finish the race together. On the track to equity, the reality is that we all have different starting lines:
The Indigenous woman living in a remote community.
The woman of colour who faces both gender and racial discrimination.
The woman living with a disability.
The girl whose family recently immigrated here.
I have been that girl. I have faced my own set of barriers when I moved to Canada from Jamaica at the age of 11. I have struggled with culture shock and a new school. The school system didn't value me or see me as bright and capable; in fact, it told me the opposite. One of my teachers decided I didn't belong in my grade level, so I was streamed into an incredibly basic form of "special education," as they called it. But when a different teacher recognized I didn't belong there and advocated for me, I got the chance to re-join the regular stream.
Coming back from that impact on my self-esteem has been a lifelong journey. But it's also what ignited my interest in justice and advocacy.
Along the way, I faced more hurdles. I got married at an early age and became a single mom a few years later, and then became a full-time student going back to school. From the work I do, it became clear to me that I have had the privilege of a supportive family but there are those who don't have that kind of built-in help.
So I chose my career path because I saw a direct link between my life and my experiences and those of the families I worked with. I realized it doesn't have to be that way. And I also knew that we could do better as a society.
So where do we start?
Don't think that if you aren't a politician or CEO or actor, you are powerless. We can all be more inclusive.
Those of us in positions of power have an opportunity to use our platform to further the work of true equity. We are in a unique position to make real and lasting change by removing barriers and transforming systems that directly impact the lives of women and girls: politicians can do that through public policy, CEOs and boards can do that through promoting qualified but underrepresented women from diverse backgrounds to positions of leadership, and — as we've seen recently with #MeToo, #TimesUp and #AfterMeToo — actors are using their broad public reach to advocate for greater support for survivors of sexual violence.
But don't think that if you aren't a politician or CEO or actor, you are powerless. We can all be more inclusive leaders by listening to the most marginalized voices and using our positions to help others. What's needed is for us to listen to women, believe their stories, and trust that they have answers that we have yet to hear. As Rosemary Brown so powerfully stated, the race for true gender equity cannot be won until all women have made it.
Also on HuffPost: