With inspiring leaders using a gender lens to look at human rights issues, I have no doubt that we will empower women and girls and make Canada the equitable country it can be.
By Doreen Nicoll
Published March 08, 2016
Celebrate the 105th anniversary of International Women's Day on Tuesday, March 8 by pledging to empower all of the women in your life! Canada's theme, Women's Empowerment Leads to Equality, is spot-on because emancipated women and girls are better equipped to reach their full potential which benefits them, their families, communities, and Canada.
Women and girls with access to a variety of educational options are more likely to work outside the home. With the means to support themselves, women and girls are able to make better financial decisions and improve their quality of life.
Women and girls who feel safe and secure in their homes and communities are more willing and able to participate in all aspects of life. Community involvement means they meet new people, are exposed to new perspectives, and have a wider variety of ways to achieve goals. Simultaneously, they are able to explore new opportunities, share their ideas and talents, and achieve fulfillment.
Women and girls need to freely exercise their right to participate in every aspect of democracy in order to have their needs, values, and rights met by those elected to public office. They need to see and be able to envision more women, including themselves, elected to every level of government.
After participating in an International Women's Day roundtable co-chaired by Pam Damoff, Oakville-North Burlington MP and Status of Women Vice Chair, and Karina Gould, Burlington MP and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development, I have great hope that we're well on our way to creating an equitable Canada.
Among thirty-odd women sat Dave Millar, President of the Oakville District Labour Council. Millar gave a moving talk that should to be heard by every man in Canada and that definitely deserved a standing ovation. He spoke of Rita Thompson making history in 1977 when she became the first woman employed at the Oakville Ford plant.
Millar went on to discuss the issues he believes are key to empowering women. Included on his list was child care. Millar acknowledged this should be a joint parental concern, but reality is it still predominantly falls on the shoulders of working women.
Millar recognized, "In order to advance women in our society a universal child care system must be implemented nationally. Never mind giving parents extra money monthly, let's get direct money going to the day cares. Let's get enough spaces for all of the children so that parents can go and find work suitable to their education and experience rather than settling for a lower paying job closer to home to take care of the family."
Millar went on to address the inadequacies of our current Employment Insurance (EI) system. A woman returning from maternity leave may find her position redundant, but she won't qualify for EI, having just finished a maternity leave. If this same woman accepts a position with a new employer that is precarious in nature, it will most likely be a part-time contractual position with unstructured hours and no benefits. Once that contract ends, she probably will still not qualify for EI.
As Millar stated, "Improvements to the EI system would drastically help women who wanted to find work as well. We have advanced in so many ways with regards to racism, homophobia and other human rights issues but still we treat women like second class citizens. Shame on our society. Canada should be setting an example for the rest of the world. Not continuing to race to the bottom."
The gendered wage gap and time taken out of the workforce to care for children means more women live in poverty and are unable to save for old age. That in turn means more Canadian women than men rely on Old Age Security (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplements (GIS).
According to the Canadian Labour Congress, "For too many women in Canada, retirement means only financial struggle. Senior women are twice as likely to live in poverty as men. 30% of elderly women on their own live below the poverty line. Women are far more reliant on OAS and GIS than men. In 2011, 30% of senior women's total income was from OAS and GIS, compared to only 18% for senior men."
Millar also coaches his son's hockey team. The two of them came up with the idea of outfitting the team in pink jerseys to promote anti-bullying and purple jerseys to raise awareness of violence against women. Millar is making sure that the next generation of boys and girls grow into thoughtful adults who are respectful of everyone regardless of gender.
Millar believes, "How we treat the women of this country is setting the tone for children of today in becoming the next generation of adults. Let's show the world, let's show our children that all people should be treated with dignity, respect and let our kids grow up to be the positive change that is needed. As parents we have a responsibility to teach our kids right from wrong. My personal feeling is that if I can lead by example, my children will never witness what the women of today had to endure. I stand in support."
I want Millar as my ally standing beside me while I lobby for gender equity. I want Penny Estey, ironworker, standing on my other side.
Estey has spent the last nine years as a journeyman ironworker. The term journeyman is one Estey is comfortable using because, "It's a status not a gender." Estey is quick to point out that attracting girls and women into non-traditional trades is not a problem. The real issue is retention.
Increasingly, the trades are where young people are finding employment. It's also where the gendered pay gap is virtually nonexistent thanks to unionization. Yet according to Statistics Canada, young men in the trades still outnumber young women by 3:1.
Like Thompson in her day, women entering non-traditional trades often find that they are the lone woman on the shop floor. However, more policies and procedures are in place today to deal with issues like workplace harassment.
Working in the trades often means travelling to where work can be found. This means women may be forced to choose between passing up a job in order to stay in their community with their children or leaving their families for long periods of time.
Estey is a spokesperson with Journeyman, an organization that promotes careers in construction and non-traditional career paths through mentorships, school and community outreach as well as support. The focus is on encouraging women facing employment challenges, whether that's a lack of education, being a single mother, or coming from a lower income household, to enter the trades to improve their lives and their earning potential.
Estey also promotes the Workplace Equality (WE) Awareness Ribbon initiative, which aims to maximize recruitment and retention of women in non-traditional workplaces. The group assists women by raising and addressing issues specific to women such as around the need for around the clock affordable child care.
For women working in the trades, either at home or away, it's a real challenge to find child care that fits non-standard work schedules. According to Estey, "I've seen a change. The culture is shifting and trickling into the trades. But, I have to remind myself we're not there yet - we're closer than we were, but not there yet."
With fabulous men like Millar and women like Estey using a gender lens to look at human rights issues, I have no doubt that we will empower women and girls and make Canada the equitable country it can be.
This International Women's Day, who will you celebrate?
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