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Closing the gender gap in Manitoba

Province a step ahead in terms of realizing equality

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Jackie Traverse paints a work of art at the legislature on Friday, at a luncheon in anticipation of International Women's Day today.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Jackie Traverse paints a work of art at the legislature on Friday, at a luncheon in anticipation of International Women's Day today. Photo Store

The equality door for women isn't as heavy as it used to be, but it still requires a big push.

Today is International Women's Day, an annual event marking the challenges and issues women face in terms of closing the gender gap around the globe, as well as the successes they have garnered.

In Winnipeg, two separate celebrations of women took place on Friday.

At the legislature over the noon hour, Anishinabe artist Jackie Traverse used her skill to offer a colourful portrayal of the challenges faced by women, painting even while the issue was chronicled in words by human rights activist Gertrude Hambira and Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross, minister responsible for the status of women.

Earlier Friday, at a breakfast meeting at the Delta Hotel, a panel of women from various fields discussed what inspires them to succeed and what issues continue to serve as gender barriers in 2014. The discussion was organized by the Hummingbird Education Fund, an initiative designed to get low-income, underprivileged women into post-secondary education programs.

"Salary equality remains at the top of the list," said Dr. Jeannette Montufar, a civil engineering professor at the University of Manitoba and the founder of the Hummingbird project. "To this day, a single father makes up to four times as much as a single mother, which is why we're encouraging women to further their education and find a way to narrow that gap."

The equality message has been out there for decades, Montufar notes, but it is no less important today. Stereotypes specific to employment roles -- men in trades earning a higher wage versus women in the lower-paying service industry -- need to be broken before the income gap is narrowed significantly.

"When a woman has a post-secondary education and is also head of a household, children get inspired by that and will pursue bigger dreams," Montufar said. "It's a cycle that reflects positively on society, as well."

Mariette Mulaire is president and CEO of the World Trade Centre Winnipeg, one of 330 WTC outposts across the globe. She says she might be one of five to six women at the top of the localized organizational structure, making for a real disparity in terms of voice and leadership attitudes.

Internationally, she notices the gender inequality. At home, though, things appear a little more balanced.

"I really believe Manitoba is ahead of the game in some ways," she said. "Is there room for improvement? Yes, of course. But I really like the direction we're headed in this province."

Mulaire points to women heading big projects and institutions in Manitoba, such as Diane Gray of CentrePort and Red River College president Stephanie Forsyth, as examples of women making significant strides in this province.

"It's in a variety of fields, too -- not just health and education," Mulaire adds. "Where we need to improve is in the boardroom. There needs to be more of a female presence in big business and industry. I'd love to see some gains made there. But it is happening. I feel that if a woman wants to go through any door, she would be able to do it today. It might take a little push but it's not as heavy as it once was."

Dr. Wanda Wuttunee, professor of native studies at the University of Manitoba, has witnessed the many issues facing women in her classroom. It's a constant challenge to earn respect both at home and in the workplace for aboriginal women, she notes, and it takes a strong person to get past the gender and racial negativity.

"Every year in my program, we have a celebration in excellence in business," Wuttunee said.

"Last year, a woman, one of the award winners, talked about how when she started up her printing business, people would go out of their way, driving over to her place, to tell her she had no business doing what she was doing. That it was wrong. That she didn't belong there.

"She used that as motivation. She's in her 11th year now. Stories like that are important. They're inspiring."

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 8, 2014 A13

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