Iqaluit Emergency Services will be recognizing International Women’s Day by having its March 8 shift, ranging from firefighters, to EMT and emergency phone dispatchers to be entirely run by women.
While women only make three percent of Canadian firefighters, they account for 30 percent of the Iqaluit Fire Department, which is indicative of the nature of the department according to acting fire chief Lieut. Sharon Nowlan.
“It’s always been a very progressive department, especially when it comes to women,” she said, and it has been the case from the beginning.
“The first thing the deputy chief told me was you are as equal as any male in the department. It was made very clear that there was never to be any distinction between men and women.”
Working full-time as a firefighter and an ambulance emergency responder for almost 15 years, Nowlan said in recent years there’s been a lot more women in the fire department.
“Over the last few years there’s been a lot more females being hired. I think it just shows a lot more women in Canada going into firefighting, EMR and realizing the opportunities afforded to them.” said Nowlan. “It’s the first time the department has done this,” Nowlan adds, “it’s a good promotion I think, especially for younger girls to see that it’s a job possibility for them.”
Monday evening ahead of International Women’s Day there will be a recruitment drive for girls to explore careers in firefighting, corrections, EMS, RCMP and various jobs in Iqaluit’s schools.
According to the United Nations, International Women’s Day has its origins in the United States, first taking place as a demonstration on Feb. 28, 1909 in New York City. In the following years International Women’s Day demonstrations took place in countries all over Europe, ranging from Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Austria-Hungary.
Initially having no set date it was celebrated in late February/early March, in 1977 the UN recognized March 8 as International Women’s Day.
It has since been celebrated as a day to bring attention to violence against women, female reproductive rights and equality.
While things have gotten better over the years according to Nowlan, there is still work to do.
“The perception of women in the workforce has definitely changed over the years, it has become much more common to see women in all sorts of different areas. In Iqaluit, I see women doing jobs around town that typically were done by men. But the work’s not done yet, there’s areas where they’re not seeing equality in pay, in terms of promotions, it’s something we need to work on.”