Canada falling behind on gender equality


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In 1994, Canada held the highest ranking on the United Nations' Human Development Index (HDI) and was considered to have the best gender-equality measures in the world. Although some Canadian women would have contended otherwise at the time, Canada was highly regarded for its progressive policies concerning gender.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/04/2015 (2851 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In 1994, Canada held the highest ranking on the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI) and was considered to have the best gender-equality measures in the world. Although some Canadian women would have contended otherwise at the time, Canada was highly regarded for its progressive policies concerning gender.

Twenty-one years later, this international praise is but a distant memory. While Canada is now ranked a modest 8th place on the UN’s HDI, it is our 23rd-place standing on the UN’s Gender Inequality Index that has caught the attention of the international community. This past month, women from around the world, including myself, gathered in New York for the UN Commission on the Status of Women conference. The organization that I represented — the National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC) — hosted a well-attended panel at this conference to discuss Canada’s plummeting reputation over the past two decades.

There is, regrettably, no simple solution that effectively responds to the full scope of the matter, as gender inequality has penetrated every facet of Canadian society. One striking example is the continuing gender wage gap, as the median employment income for Canadian women is 34 per cent lower than for Canadian men. This injustice is furthered if the woman is a member of a racialized group or has a disability.

The most marked stain on our country, however, is the endemic violence against women and girls that we allow to continue unabated, particularly against aboriginal women, girls and those who do not identify as male or female. This violence has both subtle and overt manifestations, which need to be addressed and prevented. Tragically, the federal government has refused to prioritize this issue, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s infamous quote regarding murdered and missing aboriginal women as individual crimes and not a “sociological phenomenon” so aptly demonstrates.

It is blatantly evident Canada requires comprehensive changes before it can once again be respected for its gender equality policies and actions. Marilou McPhedran, a professor at the University of Winnipeg’s Global College and a member of the NCWC panel in New York, proposed two solutions that could guide these necessary changes. First, Canada should respect and invest in women’s civil society organizations, both at home and internationally.

The Harper administration chose to shut down 12 of the 16 regional offices of its government organization that promotes gender equality in Canada, the Status of Women Canada (SWC). This action, which occurred in 2007, as well as further reductions to SWC’s funding and other funding cuts, silenced many civil society organizations that have fought for gender equality.

Secondly, Canada should implement more of its legal obligations under international human rights conventions. In 1981, Canada ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), an action formally indicating that Canada promised to implement this treaty.

However, nearly 30 years later, in 2008, Canada was held to account by the CEDAW committee of independent experts for its substandard treatment of aboriginal women, a clear violation of the treaty. This past month, the same committee released a scathing 57-page report condemning Canada’s inaction in dealing with the “grave violations” of human rights being committed against aboriginal women and girls.

Additionally, Canada has seen three visits by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples in the last 12 years. After each visit, the rapporteur has expressed astonishment at the discrepancy between Canada’s overall prosperity and the socioeconomic conditions facing many aboriginal communities, and specifically, the women in these communities. In 2009 and 2013, Canada underwent its first and second universal periodic review by the UN Human Rights Council. In both instances, Canada was given recommendations to address several gender inequality issues. Each of these denunciations is yet another blow to Canada’s diminishing reputation in the international community.

As Freida Pinto — an India-born actress and model — recently stated, “Being a female in today’s world is at best an exercise in subtle injustice and at worst a living hell.” While far too many women in Canada are forced to the bottom end of this spectrum, the majority of Canadian women enjoy privileges that are not afforded in most other countries. An eternal optimist would analyze the UN’s HDI and see not the 22 other countries ahead of Canada, but rather, the 163 other countries ranked behind Canada.

But why should Canada strive for mediocrity at the expense of half its population?

It is only once Canada allows women and girls the rights it has promised them — irrespective of race or other irrelevant factors — that we can begin to rebuild our reputation in the international community.


Christie McLeod is the executive assistant at Mondetta Charity Foundation. For more information on this issue, check out the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative’s report, Progress on Women’s Rights: Missing in Action. A Shadow Report on Canada’s Implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.


Updated on Thursday, April 9, 2015 10:04 AM CDT: Corrects byline to Christie McLeod

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