Speeches | Women's Equality in Canada — Inquiry

23 November 2010

Honourable senators, I will speak to my inquiry, and I will read it first: I will call the attention of the Senate to the state of women's equality in Canada.

I call attention to this issue because I place a great deal of premium, as I am sure all my colleagues in the Senate do, on general equality in Canada, but women's equality in particular, and I call attention to this issue also because I believe that we have regressed in that important area of equality over the last number of years, so I want to do two things. I want to assess where we are with women's equality in this country and then talk about how or why we have regressed — honourable senators can imagine what that might involve — and then talk about what we might do to improve upon the circumstances of women's equality in this country.

By way of assessment, in terms of violence against women in Canada, over 50 per cent of women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16. One to two women are murdered by a current or former partner each week in Canada, and the idea is not original but it is powerful that, perhaps, for many women and children, the least safe place in their world is their home.

Spousal violence makes up the single largest category of convictions involving violent offences in non-specialized adult courts in Canada, at least over the five-year period from 1997-98 to 2001-02, and over 90 per cent of those offenders were male.

An article in The Globe and Mail by Gerald Caplan in July 2010 makes this point: in Canada, no fewer than 178 women — I will repeat that number — no fewer than 178 women on average were killed each year between 1994 and 2008. It is a breathtaking number.

He goes on to say:

Why has our government not declared war against the enemy at home who continues to murder so many women?

Nearly 70 per cent of gun-related deaths involve a long gun, and an overwhelming number of those victims have been women.

As of March 31, 2010 — another breathtaking statistic — the Native Women's Association of Canada has found 582 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.

In the area of pay equity today in Canada, women, on average, earn 72 cents for every dollar earned by their male colleagues. However, women with children earn 52 cents for every dollar earned by their male colleagues. Two thirds of all minimum wage earners in our country are women, and women are overrepresented among part-time and unpaid workers, as well as those in the lowest income bracket. Among top earners, men outnumber women by more than 333 per cent.

Women in poverty: One in seven women in Canada lives in poverty. That is over 2 million women. When mothers are poor, of course, in so many cases, so are their children. More than 1 million children live in poverty in Canada, and poverty is strongly linked to poor scholastic achievement, and so it sustains itself and it sustains itself and it sustains itself. If that is not a statistic that should humble every last, well-off, privileged Canadian, I do not know what kind of statistic would. Income level is a key determinant of health, and women and children living in poverty are more susceptible to poor physical and mental health, and of course that perpetuates the cycle once again.

The recent Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum for 2010 is quite startling. Canada is at number 20 in a global measure of equality between men and women. Get this: It actually sits behind Sri Lanka, Lesotho and Latvia. It is shameful.

We could do something about that kind of evidence of inequality. It might take some time, but certainly when you start working at difficult problems one step at a time, you can begin to solve them. What do we, on the other hand, see from the Conservative government when they are confronted with that kind of blatant inequality, which is manageable in the sense that they might well be able to fix some of it if they would only worry about inequality and poverty and women's inequality as much as they worry about jets?

Conservatives have done this: They turned a woman's fundamental right to pay equity into something up for grabs at the collective bargaining table. That was, of course, last year when they changed the pay equity appeals process from women being able to take their pay equity issue to the Human Rights Commission, where it would be treated as a right, to women only having recourse to take it to the Labour Relations Board where, of course, it is a subject of negotiation. For anyone to say that that is not a diminution of that right is to say, by definition, they do not understand what a right is.

This government has cut the operating budget of Status of Women Canada by 43 per cent while — get this, this is so petty — removing the word "equity" from the mandate of its women's program, as if "equity" and "women" would be two words they would never want to put together. I mean, what might that lead to?

They eliminated the 2011 mandatory long-form census that will damage the credibility of data that is critical to providing programs and policies to women in poverty, Aboriginal women and disabled women. If you cannot define the group and the problem, then I guess you do not have to work at fixing it or paying some money that might help fix it either. It is a backdoor way for them to begin to cut costs in places where people are absolutely vulnerable, while they are spending, without even tendering — is it $16 billion — on jets.

You wonder why they are so quick to buy the jets and so slow to help people in categories like this, or so slow the help the veterans, for that matter.

They banned the words "gender equality" from the lexicon of the Department of Foreign Affairs and embarrassed, literally, Canada on the world stage by excluding reproductive health from our G8/G20 plans. Talk about freedom of speech. They are afraid to have "equality" put in the same phrase as "women."

Shame. It is just unbelievable.

The government removed the gender equality unit in the human rights division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. I wonder how much money they saved by doing that, and I wonder how much the damage they will do will cost, because the work that group was doing will not get done, economic consequences and all.

They axed $1 billion annually from the Liberal early learning and child care agreements that would have made child care affordable for low-income women. If you focus on low-income women, by definition you begin to focus on overcoming poverty, and that would give not only low-income women but medium and other income women as well the chance to go to work in the paid sector. I know there are some people who do not think they necessarily should do that, but they have to do that, and they have a right to do that, go to work in the paid sector and have some sense of confidence that their children are being well taken care of and are safe. How much is that to ask for?

They axed the Kelowna accord, which would have provided much-needed health, education and economic development funding to Aboriginal women. If ever there is a focus or a problem, a concentration of poverty amongst people generally in Canada, certainly amongst women, it would be amongst Aboriginal women. It is definitely borne disproportionately by women generally, and disproportionately by Aboriginal women.

They eliminated the national child supplement — so much for supporting families. They ignored a November 25, 2008, motion passed unanimously in the House of Commons — of course, they are inclined to ignore what goes on in the House of Commons, those darned votes — to develop a violence against women prevention strategy.

They abandoned women again by attempting to scrap the gun registry with Bill C-391 which, of course, would deprive Canada's police officers of a vital tool for public safety, and certainly for supporting and sustaining the safety of women.

This government has reduced the percentage of women since they have been in government in the Senate itself.

In addition, they certainly have enhanced all of that regression in our policy in this important area by what they have done with cutting funding for groups, international groups that have worked on women's equality, worked on the status of women, worked on issues that affect women internationally. Just to name a few, they cut funding to Match International, which I think had been receiving funding for its work with women's equality around the world for 34 consecutive years. They just cut it.

This government has cut funding to the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, Le Conseil d'intervention pour l'accès des femmes au travail, New Brunswick Pay Equity Coalition, Alberta Network of Immigrant Women; L'Association féminine d'éducation et d'action sociale, Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses, Womanspace resource centre, and I could go on. There are many of them.

In response to a clear-cut problem that has been defined clearly for a long, long time that I believe is absolutely fundamental to the values that Canadians hold — the sense of equality, the importance of equality, of opportunity, a sense of helping your neighbour when they are less fortunate — the government simply cut programs. They were so small as to take "equality" out of anywhere that it might have been expressed — or many places at least — where it has been expressed in government documents and government websites, in the same breath as "women." They took "equality" away from the phrase "women's equality" and cut funding to help people so desperately less fortunate than us around the world, funding to groups that have been helping these people for, in many cases, literally decades.

That is the kind of legacy that that kind of ideology and that kind of dogma has brought this country to in this very important area.

Are there actions that we could take? There are very many.

First of all, we certainly — and are doing so — should maintain the gun registry. Gun control laws have reduced the rates of robberies, suicides, firearms, murders, and particularly murders of women. The gun registry saves women's lives. Do honourable senators know what the gun registry actually costs? In a report that was suppressed by this government and was not allowed to be released before the vote, it cost $1.5 million a year. I think $1.5 million is only change for Mr. Clements' riding. That amount is what would be saved and that is how the government has been trying to justify it.

We could conduct gender-based analysis of all federal government legislation and policies, including international policies, to determine how public policies differentially affect women and men. The government says they conducts gender-based analysis, but when they are asked for a concrete "yes" or "no," with evidence of it having been done, it simply is not being done.

We should support Mr. Ignatieff's bill on pay equity, which calls for swift action to implement the recommendations of the 2004 Pay Equity Task Force, including a new pay equity commission to ensure pay equity in the federal public service, Crown corporations and federally regulated corporations.

One of the most significant features for people to be accorded status in society, if not the most significant feature, is their level of income. By definition, therefore, women are disadvantaged significantly in achieving equality of status and all the things that come with that equality. Honourable senators, consider all the problems that would be solved as a result of their gaining equality of status in significant ways if they earned as much money, because they do not, period.

We should expedite the inquiry into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. The government said it has put up money. Apparently some of the money has begun to arrive, after months and months with no sense of urgency.

We should restore the Court Challenges Program. What is the government so afraid of? Are they afraid they will be questioned in a democracy about some of the things they are doing that maybe they should, or should not, be doing? They talk about democracy but then shut down the Court Challenges Program, which has been critical to women defending their rights in this country — women who are disadvantaged and do not have the money to do it. That disadvantage is not a problem for the government.

We should think about what is happening in the United States. President Obama has established the White House Council on Women and Girls to provide a coordinated federal response to challenges confronted by women and girls, and to ensure that all their cabinet and cabinet agencies consider forcefully and rigorously how their policies and programs impact women and families. President Obama has also appointed a White House adviser on violence against women to advise him specifically on domestic violence and sexual assault issues. It is an important thing to do and it is not that difficult. In fact, it is not difficult at all. However, it is a question of where one places priorities.

The government should reintroduce a national daycare program, and they should ensure that they absolutely take action now they have completed the report required by the United Nations on UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

Many problems in the world, in this country, and in the Third World are solved when women begin to access education. We know many Third World countries have diminished abilities to grant that access. In a place like Afghanistan, one of the admirable reasons — and there are many — why we are, have been and should be there for the period we have been there is because women do not have a chance even to go to school in Afghanistan.

I am talking about international situations for women in Third World countries but I bet honourable senators would find inequality in that regard here with Aboriginal women, for example, if honourable senators studied it. How easy is it for Aboriginal women to access an education? I am talking about that equality.

Let us look at the issue from an economic point of view, from the power of the economy. It is interesting that McKinsey and Company, a well-regarded international consulting firm, conducted a study with Amazone Euro Fund. The firm selected 89 European-listed companies with the highest listed level of gender diversity in top management posts, and compared them to companies that did not have as much involvement of women in their upper management posts. What they found was striking:

There can be no doubt that, on average, these companies outperform their sector in terms of return on equity (11.4% vs an average 10.3%). . . .

For the other firms that do not have as much involvement of women at upper management levels, their operating results — earnings before interest and taxes, EBIT — were 11.1 per cent versus 5.8 per cent, and their stock market growth was 64 per cent versus 47 per cent over the period of 2005 to 2007.

This study is a statistically significant study. If the government wants to improve poverty or fight poverty in the Third World, let us educate women. If honourable senators want to improve many of the social problems that confront Canada today, let us improve women's equality here, and if the government plain and simple wants to improve the economy and create more jobs, place women where they have a chance to be absolutely fundamentally equal in our economy.

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