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Books for International Women's Day

Women's voices, women's lives. Great books to pick up on the occasion of International Women's Day.

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I Am Because We Are: An African Mother’s Fight for the Soul of a Nation, by Chidiogo Akunyili-Parr

About the book: In this innovative and intimate memoir, a daughter tells the story of her mother, a pan-African hero who faced down misogyny and battled corruption in Nigeria. 

Inspired by the African philosophy of Ubuntu — the importance of community over the individual — and outraged by injustice, Dora Akunyili took on fraudulent drug manufacturers whose products killed millions, including her sister.

A woman in a man’s world, she was elected and became a cabinet minister, but she had to deal with political manoeuvrings, death threats, and an assassination attempt for defending the voiceless. She suffered for it, as did her marriage and six children. 

I Am Because We Are illuminates the role of kinship, family, and the individual’s place in society, while revealing a life of courage, how community shaped it, and the web of humanity that binds us all.

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Book Cover Okanagan Women's Voices

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12 Books for International Women's Day

Can you hear them now? If you can't, you're not listening. Recent memoirs and biographies about remarkable women would make great picks for International Women's Day.

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Can You Hear Me Now?: How I Found My Voice and Learned to Live with Passion and Purpose, by Celina Caesar-Chavannes

About the book: Celina Caesar-Chavannes, already a breaker of boundaries as a Black woman in business, got into politics because she wanted to make a bigger difference in the world. But when she became the first Black person elected to represent the federal riding of Whitby, Ontario, she hadn't really thought about the fact that Ottawa wasn't designed for someone like her. Celina soon found herself both making waves and breaking down, confronting at night, alone in her Ottawa apartment, all the painful beauty of her childhood and her troubled early adult life. She paid the price for speaking out about micro-aggressions and speaking up for her community and her riding, but she also felt exhilaration and empowerment. As she writes, "This is not your typical leadership book where the person is placed in a situation and miraculously comes up with the right response for the wicked problem. This is the story of me falling in love, at last, with who I am, and finding my voice in the unlike …

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Lives of Girls and Women

The lives of girls and women are multifold, which is why this list is loooong, exploring many different experiences of women in Canada and around the world.

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Power Shift:  The Longest Revolution, by Sally Armstrong

About the book: The facts are indisputable. When women get even a bit of education, the whole of society improves. When they get a bit of healthcare, everyone lives longer. In many ways, it has never been a better time to be a woman: a fundamental shift has been occurring. Yet from Toronto to Timbuktu the promise of equality still eludes half the world’s population.

In her 2019 CBC Massey Lectures, award-winning author, journalist, and human rights activist Sally Armstrong illustrates how the status of the female half of humanity is crucial to our collective surviving and thriving. Drawing on anthropology, social science, literature, politics, and economics, she examines the many beginnings of the role of women in society, and the evolutionary revisions over millennia in the realms of sex, religion, custom, culture, politics, and economics. What ultimately comes to light is that gender inequality comes at too high a cost to us all.

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Role Models for—Everyone!

Helaine Becker's latest book is Pirate Queen: A Story of Zheng Yi Sao, illustrated by Liz Wong.

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From the beginning of time, women’s accomplishments have been scrubbed from the history books. It’s beyond infuriating to be told, “girls don’t” and “girls can’t”—only to discover girls and women can do and have done!

These wonderful books for young people help set the record straight. Some are biography, some are fiction, but all are wonderful depictions of accomplishment.

And please don’t say these books are good for “girls.” Girls already KNOW what we can do. It’s everyone else who needs to be clonked over the head with the news. Get boys these books and give ‘em to adults of every gender to start changing the paradigm.

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Fierce: Women Who Shaped Canada, by Lisa Dalrymple

Jaw-dropping true stories about real Canadian women who accomplished unbelievable things. Dalrymple dug into unpublished research to uncover these untold stories about amazing women like Cougar Annie, Ttha´naltther and Mona Parsons. You’ll be gobsmacked.

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Fierce: The Secret Life of Miss Freeman

Book Cover Fierce

Fierce: Women Who Shaped Canada, written by Lisa Dalrymple with illustrations by Willow Dawson, is a collection of fascinating biographical stories about ten women who've shaped the story of Canada. "Often relegated to the sidelines of history, the women highlighted in this book were performed feats that most people would never even dream of. You may not know their names now, but after reading their stories, you won’t soon forget them." This book is geared toward middle-grade readers, but readers of all ages will find much to discover in its pages. 

We're excited to share an excerpt from the story of Alice Freeman, the Toronto school teacher who led a double life...

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Alice Freeman

February 1888 Toronto, Ontario

Though the students at Ryerson School loved Miss Freeman, none of them knew her secret. At the end of the day, when they went home to their chores and their beds, she became Faith Fenton, investigative reporter for the Empire newspaper in Toronto, Ontario. She spent her nights doing things that surely no teacher would do—like interviewing famous actresses or visiting jails and homeless shelters, before walking home alone down dark city streets in the early hours of the morning. By the time her students arrived back at school, Miss Freeman was standing …

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Ten Books to Pick Up on International Women's Day

Today and all days, we celebrate books by Canadian women and their remarkable stories. Picking up one of these brand new titles would be a perfect way of marking International Women's Day.

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A One-Handed Novel, by Kim Clark

About the book: When Melanie Farrell visits the neurologist she is told her multiple sclerosis is progressing. She isn't surprised by the diagnosis, but what does shock her is the related prognosis. It seems, based on a new study, that she only has six orgasms left. Six! Fortyish and single, Mel must decide how best to spend, save or at least not waste those precious orgasms.

Mel's plans to make the most of her sex life proves easier said than done when other realities of living with MS demand even more of her attention. Should she max out her credit card on an experimental procedure in Costa Rica? How can she work to financially support herself and get the care she needs when she can hardly leave the house? Where are her friends when she needs them? Her choices become even more confusing when one day she meets a man who loves butterflies and is good with his hands. But is romance what she's really looking for right now? Or is she looking for something even more?

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One Hundred Years of Struggle: The History of Women and the Vote in Canada

One Hundred Years of Struggle: The History of Women and the Vote in Canada, by Joan Sangster, looks beyond the shiny rhetoric of anniversary celebrations and Heritage Minutes to show that the struggle for women's equality included gains and losses, inclusions and exclusions, depending on a woman’s race, class, and location in the nation. This excerpt from "Chapter 6: Feminist Countercultures," explores the roles of satirical theatre and print media in the Canadian suffrage movement. 

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Torontonians packed the pagoda pavilion at Allen Gardens in February 1896 to witness a major social and intellectual happening: a Woman’s Mock Parliament. Well-heeled attendees had secured tickets ahead of time to hear the latest arguments on this avant-garde issue. After some dignified classical music and an earnest statement of support by the Men’s Enfranchisement Association, the feature attraction unfolded: suffragists’ collectively written, dramatic rendition of a typical day in Ontario’s female-dominated legislature. No less than fifty-two amateur actresses filed onto the stage to portray members of the legislature, though in skirts not suits. 

The play began with the usual parliamentary practice of question period. Why, one legislator demanded, would the governmen …

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Reading to Smash the Patriarchy

At 49th Shelf, we always make a thing of International Woman's Day—previous posts for the occasion include Everyday Is Malala Day, Read the 30 Women Who Ruled Canadian History, Angela Sterritt on The Legacy of Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada, and Sally Armstrong on The Ascent of Women. But this year more than ever before, a day to challenge the system and raise up women feels incredibly necessary—and like not nearly enough. 

And so to that end, we've enlisted Erin Wunker, author of Notes From a Feminist Killjoy, to recommend some essential reading for patriarchy smashing, works of poetry that are challenging in all senses of the word.  

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As my friend Tanis MacDonald has written, every time I talk about Canadian poetry I feel I am doing something radical. This is even more true when I talk about poetry written by women and women-identifying people writing in the context of Canada. The titles I’ve chosen are challenging. Indeed, they are challenging insofar as they shake at the structures of what is in service of what might be. They are, to me, hopeful without turning away from inequity and pain. They are radical in their enactments of gender politics and poetics. They are working to make us better readers, these books. They breathe life into my …

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Read the 30 Women Who Ruled Canadian History

To mark the a century since the first women won the vote in Canada, the magazine Canada's History recruited a panel of prominent Canadians to compile a list of great Canadian women from the past. The list is inspiring, rich with familiar names and some new ones. Now, we've created a Great Canadian Women Reading List to go along with it. Not all  these women have books of their own (aspiring biographers, take note!), so in these cases we've found articles and other materials to highlight their amazing lives and contributions.

Happy International Women's Day.

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Doris-Anderson-Rebel-Daughter

Doris Anderson (1921–2007)

READ: Rebel Daughter, by Doris Anderson

During her twenty years as the editor of Chatelaine magazine, Doris Anderson blazed a trail for Canadian women. Long before Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique was published, Anderson was writing about abortion, child care, custody arrangements, and pay equity. Her editorials laid the foundation for the feminist movement in Canada. In Rebel Daughter, we are introduced to the life of this fascinating and influential woman. We learn of her turbulent early years in Depression-era Alberta and her sometimes frustrating efforts to establish herself as a professional journalist in Toronto in the 1940s. We are given a behind-the-scenes look at her …

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Angela Sterritt: The Legacy of Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada

Angela Sterritt Art

Credit: Angela Sterritt. "Honour the Dead, Fight for the Living, Honour the Living, Fight for the Dead." 3.5 ft x 4.5 ft. Acrylic on canvas. 

Talking History focuses on a wide range of topics in Canadian history, and it consists of articles by Canada's foremost historians and history experts. Our contributors use the power of narrative to bring the past to life and to show how it is not just relevant, but essential to our understanding of Canada and the world today. "Talking History" is a series made possible through a special funding grant from the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Angela Sterritt is an award-winning journalist, artist, and filmmaker from the Gitxsan Nation. She's been a working journalist for over 15 years and is currently a CBC reporter in television, radio and online. She was recently awarded a prestigious William Southam Journalism Fellowship—the first Indigenous person of Canada to receive the award since its inception in 1962.

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Stepping onto the sandy shores of the Red River, a Winnipeg man and his son noticed a bundle floating on the sun-tinged water. It was later found to be the lifeless body of a petite 15-year-old Anishnaabe girl, wrapped in a bag.

The news of Tina Fontaine’s murder in the summer of 2014 flooded the headlines a …

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Shameless: Marilyn Churley on Finding her Son and Reforming Adoption Disclosure

In the late 1960s, at the age of 19 and living far from home amid the thriving counterculture of Ottawa, Marilyn Churley got pregnant. Like thousands of other women of the time she kept the event a secret. Faced with few options, she gave the baby up for adoption.

Over 20 years later, as the Ontario NDP government's minister responsible for all birth, death, and adoption records, including those of her own child, Churley found herself in a surprising and powerful position—fully engaged in the long and difficult battle to reform adoption disclosure laws and find her son.

Both a personal and political story, her memoir, Shameless, is a powerful book about a mother's struggle with loss, love, secrets, andlies—and an adoption system shrouded in shame.

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49th Shelf: Shameless makes clear that issues around adoption are feminist issues. What has changed since your experiences in the 1960s in terms of stigma around unplanned or unwanted pregnancies? What has stayed the same?

Marilyn Churley: Adoption is a feminist issue for many reasons. As I said in the introduction to Shameless, history shows that women have always been coerced into living their lives as society deems appropriate, and tormented, punished and shamed when they didn’t comply. The double standard aro …

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Intrepid Travellers: Canadian Women in the World

This month at 49thShelf, we're Writing the World, exploring travel guides and memoirs, and books with global issues and international themes. And this week in particular, in the run-up to International Women's Day, we're celebrating women's stories, beginning with this cross-genre list—memoir, fiction, and poetry—of Canadian women's travel tales.

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Book Cover Outside of Ordinary

Outside of Ordinary: Women's Travel Stories, edited by Lynn Cecil and Catherine Bancroft

Thirty-two Canadian women writers—including Alison Pick, Sharon Butala, and Lorna Crozier—tell their travel stories in this anthology of stories in which lives are challenged spiritually, physically, emotionally, and otherwise, as well as deeply enriched. Elaine K. Miller cycles across the Southern United States, Janet Greidanus climbs to Everest Base Camp, and Jane Eaton Hamilton, on vacation in Mexico with her partner, contemplates whether to join the fight for same-sex marriage in Canada. For it seems that travel doesn't just change one's view of the world, but it changes also how one sees one's own self, and also notions of home. 

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