Advancing equity for women within the education sector and the whole of society is a longstanding teacher organization priority.
CTF was among several civil society, academic, Aboriginal, and human rights organizations contributing to a recent report published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives which documents Canada’s progress towards gender equity over the past five years.
Unfortunately the news is not good – particularly in light of the fact that not so long ago Canada was one of the best places in the world to be a woman. The CCPA study, a shadow report on Canada’s Implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, states that,
Worryingly, the pace of progress towards gender equality slowed over the past decade. Twenty years ago Canada ranked first amongst nations in international measures of gender equality. In 2013, Canada had fallen to twentieth place in the Global Gender Gap rankings, and twenty-third place in the UN Gender Inequality Index. (p. 6)
The study found that gender inequity has persisted or worsened in critical areas such as violence against women, women’s economic security, and the human rights of Aboriginal women and girls (the following is excerpted from the full report and accompanying press release):
- Rates of sexual assault and intimate partner violence have remained persistently high in Canada, with 1.8 million Canadians reporting having experienced one of these forms of violence in the past five years. The issue of violence is particularly acute with respect to Aboriginal women and girls in Canada, with rates of violence that are at least three times higher than non-Aboriginal women and girls.
- Overall, 13.3% of women live in poverty, however Aboriginal women and single mothers experience even higher rates, at 30% and 36% respectively.
- The Canadian gender pay gap is the eighth-largest among OECD countries;
- Women in Canada have made tremendous gains in education, outpacing their male counterparts in both high school and post-secondary completion. However, women remain less likely to pursue post-secondary education in traditionally male-dominated fields such as in trades, and Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
The report also found that significant gaps remain in educational attainment between Aboriginal women and girls and non-Aboriginal people (pp. 25-27). In spite of their educational gains, women continue to be significantly underrepresented in senior management positions and in the political arena (p. 5).
Among the common themes identified in the report was “a marked slowdown in the rate of progress towards closing the gap between the well-being of women and men”, and “important and persistent differences between different groups of women, with Aboriginal, racialized, and immigrant women, as well as women with disabilities, all suffering a disproportionate burden of inequality.” (p. 7)
Not surprisingly the report also states that there has been “a notable shrinking of the federal government’s role in addressing the barriers to gender equality both at home and as part of its international commitments.” (p. 7)
There is much the federal government can do to advance gender equity in Canada by taking a strong leadership role and implementing progressive policies for women. In this regard the report concludes with some key recommendations which address challenges and opportunities (the following is excerpted from the report, pp. 84-85):
- Current initiatives that directly undermine the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action include: the Universal Child Care Benefit, commitments to spousal income-splitting and the Maternal Health Initiative that precludes funding for abortion services. Addressing these issues will ensure a strong social fabric and more equitable economic system.
- Changes to the mandate of Status of Women, gender-blind policy making, and funding cuts to organizations providing research and policy advice on the best practices for achieving gender equality means important insights and innovative practices are being lost. The absence of key data on the status of women, including the elimination of the long-form census, further reduces the feasibility of conducting gender-based analysis, thereby reducing the capacity of the government to produce effective public policy.
- Canada must fulfil the recommendations from UN bodies, including on the disappearances of Aboriginal women and girls. Canada must fully implement its national action plan on Women, Peace and Security, and ensure that its international aid, including funding to reduce maternal and child mortality, is consistent with international human rights standards.
- The absence of a comprehensive government-wide action plan on gender equality, or national strategies on housing or poverty reduction are preventing the government from making concerted progress towards ensuring that women in Canada are not denied a basic level of economic and personal security because they are women. The effectiveness of federal public policy is hampered by a lack of systematic gender-based analysis – resulting in policies and programmes that fail to meet the specific needs of women.
If implemented these recommendations would go a long way towards strengthening equity for all women in Canada including women in the teaching profession.
Progress on Women’s Rights: Missing in Action. A Shadow Report on Canada’s Implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Prepared by a Network of NGOs, Trade Unions and Independent Experts, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, October 2014. https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/progress-women%E2%80%99s-rights-missing-action
Bernie Froese-Germain is a Researcher with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.