Women’s issues: working together to achieve greater equality

In the past few decades, the place of women in Canadian society has changed dramatically, especially at the professional, political and family level. Not only are more and more women entering the labour market—the participation rate rose from 24% in 1953 to 82% in 2014—but more women hold senior and leadership positions and are becoming involved in public life.

For example, in 1980, 6% of MPs in the House of Commons were women compared to 26% today.

It has taken more than a century of feminist struggles to reach this point and it is very important to to witness the progress that has been made on women’s issues. However, it is clear that much remains to be done in order to achieve real gender equality, whether in terms of income parity, participation in public life, or protection against violence.

Equal pay for equal work

Since the mid-1960s, the average salary of women in the labour market has doubled, rising from $15,700 in 1965 to $37,200 in 2010. However, even in 2016, women only earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. Furthermore, t the case for immigrant or Aboriginal women is much worse, as they often face an even larger wage gap.

This income inequality has an impact on the average living conditions of women, who even today are more prone to poverty and insecurity than men and are often the first victims of our governments’ austerity measures. Pay equity is a right under the Canadian Human Rights Act and is guaranteed by the Constitution. It is high time that we addressed these egregious wage gaps that exist between men and women and establish pay equity for all workers under federal jurisdiction.

In February 2016, a motion to that effect was moved by NDP Members of Parliament Karine Trudel (Jonquière) and Sheila Malcomson (Nanaimo-Ladysmith). This motion, which was adopted by all parties except the Conservatives, called on the federal government to take concrete action to reduce the wage gap between men and women and to recognize pay equity as a right. As a result of this motion, the Special Committee on Pay Equity was created by the House of Commons. Its final report was presented in June 2016 and recommended that the Trudeau government draft proactive pay equity legislation within 18 months, highlighting the need to implement, at the federal level, an effective legislative framework for pay equity.

The time has come for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals to honour their commitments and to introduce a bill to implement the recommendations of the committee on pay equity. This step forward could end systemic gender-based discrimination, which results in greater economic insecurity for women.

Combatting systemic discrimination

Aside from wages, women experience other forms of discrimination, most notably violence. In fact, 70% of victims of domestic violence in Canada are girls or women. Almost one in two women in Canada will be a victim of violence at some point in her life. The situation of Aboriginal women is even bleaker: they are three times more likely to be victims of violence and four times more likely to be murdered than non-Aboriginal women.

It is urgent that the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women begin its work in order to shed light on the violence and systemic discrimination that they presently experience. It is also vital to adopt, as the NDP has been proposing for many years, an effective and comprehensive plan to fight violence against women.

It is also crucial to fight for change in the traditional division of household work. Although an increasing number of men and women are actively involved in the fight against sexist stereotypes, these continue to be perpetuated in private and in the public sphere. Even today women continue to be responsible for most of the housework and child care, even though they represent almost half (47%) of Canada’s labour force. The NDP’s plan would create one million reduced contribution child care spaces across Canada, making it possible for many women to participate in the labour market, and lighten the burden of household work, which all too often falls to women even today.

It is vital that we continue working on better representation of women in politics. Canada is ranked 48th on the Inter-parliamentary Union’s list of women in national parliaments, far behind most European countries as well as a number of developing countries such as Uganda, Mauritania, Rwanda and Iraq. This shows that even today women face a number of obstacles when they stand for election. Clichés about women’s abilities, the lack of female political role models, and discriminatory media coverage continue to deter women from participating in politics.

Whether we are talking about wages, family matters or politics, there is a lot of work to be done to further the advancement of women in Canada. By working together and implementing positive and inclusive policies we can make a difference for future generations.