Evidence of meeting #35 for Status of Women in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was school.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Andrée Côté  Women's and Human Rights Officer, National Programs Section, Public Service Alliance of Canada
  • Ellen Dubé  Educational Counsellor, Rosalie-Jetté School
  • Stefanie Lomatski  Executive Director, Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women
  • Bailey Reid  Chair, Public Engagement Committee, Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women

4:35 p.m.

Women's and Human Rights Officer, National Programs Section, Public Service Alliance of Canada

Andrée Côté

This comes to back to the discussion we just had with Ms. Ambler on employment equity. The budget indeed proposes to eliminate in practice the contractual obligation. This obligation targets private companies under provincial jurisdiction that have more than 100 employees and that have a contract with the federal government worth more than $200,000. They have to meet all the requirements in the Employment Equity Act. This requirement affects 1 million workers. It is very important.

It is thanks to this requirement, among other things, that there has been progress over the years. This has allowed women to access non-traditional jobs. Under federal legislation, companies have to adopt this initiative in order to get a federal government contract. Concretely, that means that the employer has to conduct a workforce survey. It has to assess and analyze its hiring practices and determine whether there are any barriers. It is not enough just to hire women. The work environment has to be welcoming to them. For example, sexual harassment at work has to be prohibited. There has to be flexible policies to reconcile work and family obligations, child care services at the workplace, and good maternity and parental leave policies and so forth.

It is not enough just to hire women. The culture at the workplace has to change in order to retain women and allow them to truly feel accepted and welcome.

The budget implementation bill is a step backwards. It includes a clause that practically eliminates the requirement for entrepreneurs to respect employment equity. This is unfortunate because it will truly compromise the progress that has been made and might turn back the clock on employment equity.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

You spoke about women who are mothers and who need daycare services.

Could you talk a little more about how important it is for women's economic prosperity, essentially, to have the right to choose, to have reproductive rights, to have the necessary accessibility to be able to make those choices? Could you elaborate on how that has an effect on equal access to work, equal access to good jobs, and to equal salaries as well, and the importance of parental leave?

My time is about to expire.

4:35 p.m.

Women's and Human Rights Officer, National Programs Section, Public Service Alliance of Canada

Andrée Côté

Yes, on that huge question.... It's obviously really important for women to decide whether they want to have kids or not, first of all, and if they do want to have kids, when they will have them and in what conditions. Child care has been identified by Supreme Court Judge Rosalie Abella as “the ramp” for women to have access to the paid workforce.

We know that good-quality child care is really important for women so they can go to work with peace of mind knowing that their kids are being well taken care of. As I said, studies are showing that publicly funded, good-quality child care actually pays off for the government, because they get more than they pay by having women participating in the paid labour force and paying taxes, and by having children with healthy development. We know that child care is really important for children from disadvantaged families. In particular, for immigrant children, it's a real boost to help them integrate.

On maternity benefits and paid leave for protective reassignment, right now the Canada Labour Code has very weak provisions to ensure that when women are pregnant or nursing they can actually be reassigned to different jobs that are safe for them and for their babies. We don't have paid leave under the Canada Labour Code when women have to stop working because of their pregnancy.

I think this was debated in the House just last week. Unfortunately, a bill was lost, but—

4:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

Thank you, Ms. Côté. That is all the time we have.

That brings the first part of our meeting to an end. I would like to thank our witnesses, Ms. Dubé and Ms. Côté.

I am going to suspend for a few moments so that the witnesses who have just arrived can get settled.

4:44 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

We are continuing the meeting with our second group of witnesses, two representatives from the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women.

I would like to welcome Bailey Reid and Stefanie Lomatski to our committee meeting. This is how it is going to work. You will have 10 minutes to share your point of view, and then there will be a question period.

I turn the time over to you. You have 10 minutes for your presentation.

4:45 p.m.

Stefanie Lomatski Executive Director, Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women

I would first like to take a moment to thank the committee for inviting the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women to speak today.

Additionally, on behalf of our coalition, I would like to thank you for taking the time to explore how we might make more secure futures for our young girls.

My name is Stefanie Lomatski, and I am executive director of the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, also referred to as OCTEVAW. I am here today with Bailey Reid, chair of our public engagement committee.

OCTEVAW is a coalition of organizations and individuals dedicated to ending violence against women through leadership, education, advocacy, and political action. We want to promote a coordinated response to women and their children who have experienced abuse.

The coalition is built on a strong core value that includes working collaboratively to achieve equality of rights, fair access to resources and services, and social justice for women and their children.

It is our concern today that young Canadian women are experiencing high rates of intimate partner and sexual violence and that the impact of violence and gender inequity is creating a gender disparity in young women's ability to thrive.

In Ontario approximately 46% of high school girls report being targeted for unwanted sexual comments. Additionally, in Canada, we know that when young women enter university and college, four out of five undergraduates are victims of violence in dating relationships. We encourage our young women to attain higher education; however, we do not explicitly say that in the first eight weeks of their undergrad they're at high risk of being raped by someone they know. We also do not tell them that they will be guaranteed to earn less upon graduation because they are women.

We need to work toward giving our young women the message that we are concerned about their ability to be safe and secure and to have the opportunity to use self-agency. In order to create a cultural shift that will facilitate the empowerment of young women, we need to prevent the violence they are experiencing and to understand that women can be further marginalized. It is vital that we consider how racism, ability, and socio-economic status create layers of systemic oppression that build barriers between our young women and their chance to live a life of opportunity.

We'd like to start with our first recommendation, which is school-based violence prevention programs. When preventing violence, we need to have the strength to recognize that violence is not neutral, which is the concern that the current bullying campaigns in schools focus on. In our opinion, these programs are not deconstructing forms of violence, such as sexism and racism, but are instead grouping violence, and therefore deflecting accountability. When we speak of ending violence against girls and women, we need to accept that even at the grade school and high school levels, the beliefs about roles of girls and boys, men and women, are being maintained.

What makes for successful prevention programs? First, we need to make a commitment financially to maintaining and promoting programs that focus on changing attitudes. Second, the programs need to focus on changing attitudes over time.

To make substantial change, Canada needs to incorporate this learning into school culture. Young men and women still do not understand or value what healthy relationships are. Their concepts of sexual violence remain informed by myths—for example, that most sexual violence is perpetrated by strangers.

This is an issue that needs a national commitment. Within Ottawa we have seen the success of such programs as In Love and In Danger, a program that seeks to mentor young men and women so that they can build dialogues within their own schools. Programs like this use peer influence in order to make positive change.

I would also like to take this opportunity to make an important point about OCTEVAW. We find that it is vital that young women are provided with spaces to be mentored. It is also important to us that young men be included in making change.

OCTEVAW began engaging men approximately two years ago. It is one of our priorities, and we believe that a change in community culture is only possible when we involve men.

Recently, in fall 2011, we began our program called I Can MANifest Change. It focuses on engaging young men in ending violence against women through exploring such topics as masculinity, femininity, sexism, and sexual violence. It is a program that has hope and celebrates that not all men are perpetrators of violence.

I will now pass it over to Bailey Reid, the chair of our public engagement committee, to continue our presentation.

4:50 p.m.

Bailey Reid Chair, Public Engagement Committee, Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women

Thank you.

I'm also the executive director of an organization in Ottawa called Sisters Achieving Excellence, which provides literacy and mentoring for criminalized women. One of the most important things we can do to increase economic opportunity for girls is to provide literacy and mentoring programs for them. We can start this very easily, and change for young girls can happen almost immediately.

The Canadian Council on Learning found that Canada is experiencing about a 48% illiteracy rate, so 48% of Canadians possess skills that are below those that are internationally identified to function in society.

Consider that you are an illiterate girl. You feel powerless because you cannot read or write. Your sense of inadequacy may be heightened because you have a history of abuse, exploitation, or mental health concerns. Certainly you've experienced inequality simply because you are a girl. Perhaps you're a young woman of colour, so that increases the chance that you will be further marginalized and therefore illiterate.

According to Craig Alexander, deputy chief economist at TD Bank Financial Group, the Canadian economy could experience a $32 billion boost if literacy rates were improved by only 1%. This is a mutually beneficial outcome: we raise strong, confident girls who can advocate for their needs and everything they need to access, and Canada's economy is strengthened.

We must increase the capacity for young girls and women to advocate for themselves, find equitable employment, and become empowered. We can easily use literacy as a vehicle for all of these things. The government must acknowledge illiteracy as a huge factor in economic access and provide funding to community literacy programs as well as schools. I know that education is a provincial responsibility; however, I believe that literacy is a human right and therefore a federal responsibility. Without the skills required to function in society, it is impossible to achieve financial equity.

Finally, our third recommendation is that we increase the use of gender analysis in all policy shifts. We believe it's vital for the continued and further use of gender analysis when we make policies in a variety of different sectors. We believe it would be a powerful statement to girls and young women for every policy—whether it be government policy, school policy, or health care policy—that gender analysis be part of our accountability system. If we are to create a more equitable society for girls and women, we must make advancements and commitments to critically examine how decisions will impact them as women or girls.

We need to recognize how policies impact the diverse women within Canada and ensure that all young women are provided with the same opportunities. For example, we need to be guided by our aboriginal sisters and create and maintain programs that provide equitable opportunities for them. It is necessary to show young aboriginal women that they are valued by providing resources, education, and health care.

Thank you so much for having us. It has been wonderful to speak and share some of our thoughts on how we can empower girls and young women. We want to create safe and secure futures for them, and it would be our pleasure to work with you on building a sustainable future and change for Canadian girls. We are always pleased to help advise and support this committee in policy shifts.

Thank you.

4:50 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

Thank you very much.

I would simply like to mention to the committee members that, since today's meeting will be 15 minutes shorter than usual because of voting, the clerk has suggested that you could submit your questions in writing to her and that she would forward them to our guests.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Madam Chair, could you please repeat the clerk's recommendation?

4:55 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

She did not recommend but, rather, suggested that you could submit your questions in writing to her and that she would forward them to our guests since our meeting will be 15 minutes shorter than usual today.

We will now move on to the question period.

Ms. Young, you have seven minutes.

May 16th, 2012 / 4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

I'd like to thank you so much for coming today and for presenting and providing us with information on your work, which is very important. We know that violence against women, particularly for those who experience it, is certainly a challenge in being successful in the workplace—it's very disruptive and all of that.

I have to let you know that I worked on the downtown eastside in Vancouver for a time. I was a family, native youth, and child care counsellor. Having done that, and having witnessed a lot of violence in that particular job as well, it spurred me on to take children home, which is why I became a foster parent and actually raised seven children. I'm now a foster grandmother in my own home. So I do have some experience and knowledge of these areas of which you speak.

I'm wondering if you could follow up a bit on your good work and what our government is doing. For example, are you aware of the fact that our government has doubled the program funding for Status of Women in terms of the program funds you receive?

4:55 p.m.

A voice

Yes.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

In Budget 2012, we have stood firm on that budget; we have not declined any of that budget. Is that information that's out there for the sector and for the women and girls in the programs and services they receive?

4:55 p.m.

Chair, Public Engagement Committee, Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women

Bailey Reid

Well, I think it's out there. I mean, there have been cuts as well—

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

Not in the Status of Women programing—that's what I'm saying.