Today is International Women’s Day, a dual-focused day that aims to commemorate the progress made in the name of women’s rights, as well as advocate for further action towards gender equality. Two pressing concerns frequently discussed on this day in Canada are the gender pay gap and missing and murdered aboriginal women.

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Opinion

Today is International Women’s Day, a dual-focused day that aims to commemorate the progress made in the name of women’s rights, as well as advocate for further action towards gender equality. Two pressing concerns frequently discussed on this day in Canada are the gender pay gap and missing and murdered aboriginal women.

These are generally categorized as women’s rights issues — but this is incorrect. These are human rights issues that are holding our nation back progressively, economically and morally.

According to Statistics Canada, one half of our population (women) earns 73.1 cents for every dollar the other half (men) earns. Catalyst Canada measured men and women with similar skills and qualifications in similar roles, and found Canada’s gender pay gap is approximately $8,000 per woman per year — more than twice the global average.

Any way you slice the pie, it is clear Canadian women are getting a much smaller piece of it.

This is not breaking news. As my brother, Graham McLeod, recently stated in a Facebook post: "This (the gender pay gap) has been common knowledge for literally decades, and yet the situation persists, so it appears that the maintenance of this inequitable state of affairs must be at least partially deliberate, or at least deliberate insofar as we’re insufficiently motivated to do anything about it."

The World Economic Forum’s newly released 2015 Global Gender Gap Report states at the present pace of change, the global economic pay gap will not be closed until 2133; barring drastic changes, this issue will not be resolved in our lifetimes.

Canadians should not idly accept this fate for our nation. That being said, our languid national response may relegate us to this timeline of mediocrity. The Forum’s corresponding Global Gender Gap Index ranked Canada a dismal 30th in 2015, placing it behind numerous developing countries, including the African nation of Burundi, which in 2015 faced a coup d’état as well as ongoing protests and violence. To borrow the words uttered by Dr. Seuss, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and many others, "We can and we must do better."

Women deserve to be fairly compensated for their services — and should advocate for these rights. Men and boys should also champion this cause for their mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, or merely on behalf of 50 per cent of the nation’s population. If sentiments or principles of fairness do not sway you, then consider the economic rationale: the Royal Bank of Canada estimated closing the pay gap in the next two decades would boost Canada’s GDP by four per cent in 2032.

While our nation continues to be held back by the under-compensation of women’s wages, it also suffers from ongoing violence against aboriginal women and girls.

Delaine Copenace’s mother is praying her 16-year-old daughter, most recently seen Feb. 27 in Kenora, Ont., will be only a temporary addition to the ever-growing list of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. While a RCMP study totals this list at less than 1,200, many interested parties — including affected families, the Native Women’s Association of Canada and Carolyn Bennett, minister of indigenous and northern affairs — believe the true number is much higher. All parties agree, however, that whatever the true number may be, it is far too high.

In 2014, the National Post interviewed 12 aboriginal girls from Maples Collegiate in Winnipeg who revealed a perpetual state of fear for themselves and/or their friends and family. One girl expressed with frustration: "It makes me question, how are we different?"

Recognizing the difference in how society — including the police — deals with this issue, 14-year-old Brianna Jonnie decided to take matters into her own hands. This past weekend, the honour-roll student sent a letter to Winnipeg police Chief Devon Clunis instructing him on what to do if she goes missing, stating, "(Do) not treat me as the indigenous person I am proud to be."

The fact Canadian girls are living in fear is a clear moral shortcoming. Our nation’s failure to resolve this crisis is also a blatant violation of numerous promises Canada has made through its ratification of international treaties, making this issue a marked stain on its standing in the international community. But what is undoubtedly the most appalling matter of this issue is the duration in which our country has allowed it to continue unabated.

Nahanni Fontaine, the province’s special adviser on aboriginal women’s issues, says progress is being made. "The fact that I’m here in this room talking about missing and murdered indigenous women — and you can hear a pin drop — that’s change," she said at the Manitoba Multifaith Council’s leadership breakfast in February. The fact we have a prime minister who, unlike his predecessor, is committed to an inquiry on this issue, also denotes progress.

But until two per cent of our nation’s population (aboriginal women) no longer represent a quarter of its murder victims, this issue should remain at the forefront of our collective concern. Similarly, until men no longer pocket an extra one-quarter in wages, Canadians need to fight against this discrimination. Not just on International Women’s Day, but every day. Women’s groups have drawn attention to these injustices for decades. It’s time the rest of Canada joined in.

A feminist is simply someone who advocates for equality. Someone who believes the rights and freedoms enshrined in our charter should apply equally to all citizens. A feminist recognizes a better Canada is not only possible, but inevitable if its citizens are provided equal opportunity to rise to their full potential. I’m a feminist. Are you?

Christie McLeod is the founder and managing director of Human Rights Hub Winnipeg and the executive director of Mondetta Charity Foundation. She is the secretary of the Institute for International Women’s Rights-Manitoba, and sits on the Resolution Committee of the Provincial Council of Women of Manitoba.