International Women’s Day: A reflection on Canadian women’s equality

“Promoting gender equality is not only a woman’s issue, it is a human issue. It is a matter of human dignity and not only fundamental justice, but national justice.” Speech on the unveiling of the Women are Persons Monument, Calgary Alberta, October 18, 1999

gender-equalityIn 1981, Canada was one of the first countries to adopt and ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which set out benchmarks around government accountability and called for international action in eliminating gender discrimination.

In 1993, Canada participated in the development of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action which affirmed that “women’s rights are human rights“.

In September 1995, at the Fourth World Conference on Women, the Beijing Declaration and  Platform for Action affirmed the fundamental principle that the rights of women and girls are an “inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights.” This Platform for Action identified twelve critical areas of concern and provided a framework to help countries devise public policies to push gender equality forward.  One of these areas addresses:  Women in Power and Decision-Making.

September 2015 will mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration.  It is also a time for review. On the eve of this upcoming International Women’s Day (March 8), we need to ask ourselves:  how successfully have we achieved gender equality as a country, especially in the area of Women in Power and Decision-Making?   Let us consider the following statistics:

  • 24%: proportion of women in House of Commons
  • 23.7%: proportion of women in Federal Cabinet (9 of 38)
  • 36.5%: proportion of women in Senate
  • 1:  Number of women who have been Prime Minister (Kim Campbell, PC, for 4 months, 9 days)
  • 0: Number of women who have been Finance Minister
  • 6:  Number of Premiers in Canada who are women today
  • 1:  Number of  Judicial appointments for women today (10 men)
  • 1:  Number of women Justices on Supreme Court of Canada today (7 men)
  • 35.4%: proportion of women in all management positions
  • 22.9%: proportion of women in all senior management positions
  • 47.3%:  proportion of women ages 15 and older who make up the labour force
  • top 1% of income earners are male

Here in Canada, women make up 50.4% of the population and yet in the area of Power and Decision-Making, these figures illustrate that women are underrepresented. We are seeing progress, but we have not realized gender equality, yet. This inequality does not only represent a challenge in terms of justice; it also represents a shortcoming in the quality of our democracy.  A vision for a better, more just society is built on the democratic principle of equality.

There will be two major UN meetings to review the Beijing Declaration and Sustainable Development Goals in 2015.  As a country, we must take ownership for this data and set out both financial and political commitments to transform the vision of gender balance in Power and Decision-Making into a Canadian reality.  We must show that such a vision not only engenders a more just democracy here at home, it challenges Canada as a global Leader to exemplify that this vision is indeed possible.  In so doing, we create a better world and future for us all.


Adelina Cecchin is president of the Greater Essex Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and a member of the CTF Advisory Committee on the Status of Women


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