Madam Chair and distinguished members of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, I thank you for this opportunity to speak on my private member's bill, Bill C-309, an act to establish Gender Equality Week.
It's a great honour for me to appear before you today, not only in my capacity as the member of Parliament for Mississauga—Lakeshore, but also because, in my view, this is a real opportunity to have a profoundly positive impact on Canadian society.
Before elaborating, Madam Chair, I would like to take a moment to thank my team here in Ottawa and in my constituency for their dedicated work in bringing this bill to where it is today.
Adrian Zita-Bennett is my executive and legislative assistant, and he did much of the heavy lifting on the consultation and the development of the text of this bill. My amazing team in the constituency office—Dulce Santos, Hanan Harb, Leslie Peres, and Kyra Brennan—engaged our community in Mississauga—Lakeshore and supported us each step of the way.
Madam Chair, I would also like to thank Strength in Stories, which is a grassroots organization that helped to inspire this bill, and particularly its co-founder, Rachelle Bergen.
In addition, local and national stakeholders such as non-profit organizations, women's shelters, and all levels of government provided feedback that was critical in developing the preambular paragraphs of this bill.
My team and I felt that making frank and compelling mention of the full scope of gender-based inequalities that persist in Canada was an essential step to ensure that gender equality week will be effective in delivering two things: national engagement and prospective solutions.
The reason for this, Madam Chair, is simple. Solving any given problem first requires full recognition of the existence of the problem and of its scope. We need to be able to call problems by their names and be frank and open when tackling the challenges that we continue to face.
I am sure the members of this committee are not at all surprised to hear stakeholders tell them we still have a lot of work to do to create a more gender-equality-based society. I would like to cite some facts that reinforce that perception.
In the Global Gender Report it has published every year since 2006, the World Economic Forum reveals the scope of existing gender gaps and the efforts being made to close them, particularly in the fields of health, education, economic participation, economic prospects, and political empowerment. According to the 2016 report, which the forum published last October, Canada ranks 35th out of 144 countries, between Luxembourg and Cape Verde, but 1st in North America.
Madam Chair and distinguished members of the committee, we, as Canadians, must also acknowledge that the wage gap between men and women undermines our economy and the global economy. People around the world increasingly recognize that gender inequality is a major stumbling block.
According to a report the Royal Bank published in 2005, the lost income potential of Canadian women due to the wage gap is about $126 billion a year. A report published by the UBS financial services corporation last October states that global economic performance would rise by £10 billion if the wage gap between men and women were closed. Similarly, according to a report issued by the McKinsey Global Institute in September 2015, promoting gender equality would add £12 billion to global GDP by 2025.
Gender equality week can work to achieve what more and more international organizations and governments around the world are advocating: that the elimination of gender gaps will lead to strong and lasting economic benefits. As a 2013 International Monetary Fund report on women's participation in the global labour market put it, “The challenges of growth, job creation, and inclusion are closely intertwined.”
Here in Canada, gender-based inequalities have become ingrained in the fabric of our society, and if we do not address them directly, they will continue to persist.
Canadians of minority gender identity and expression are often faced with these challenges in an even more profound manner, and on the predicament of indigenous Canadians, Madam Chair, a 2015 RCMP report outlines that indigenous women make up just over 4% of our population and yet account for 16% of female homicides and 11% of missing Canadian women.
The acknowledgement of these outcomes goes far beyond partisan affiliation. All of us bear some responsibility in a society that categorically and systematically treats and values genders differently.
In short, if we truly seek to address these challenges, a pivotal first step is to recognize them frankly and understand them fully.
Second, the federal government cannot solve these problems by itself. Gender equality requires awareness and engagement on the part of all Canadians. To be clear, I'm very proud of the leadership of our Prime Minister and the federal government, who are working to address systemic gender-based gaps that have shaped Canada since Confederation.
The Prime Minister has achieved gender parity in cabinet for the first time in the history of Canada. Also for the first time, he appointed a woman as Leader of the Government in the House and a female minister who will focus exclusively on gender equality issues.
The Canadian government has launched an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, and the Minister of Status of Women is developing a national strategy to combat gender-based violence. The government has also begun to implement the gender-based analysis plus tool, or GBA+, in all federal government organizations to ensure the aspects of this issue are taken into consideration in all government programs, policies, and statutes.
The Canadian government has tabled Bill C-16, currently being debated in the Senate, which protects Canadians who belong to minority groups distinguished by gender identity or gender expression by adding gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination as defined in the Canadian Human Rights Act.
In early December 2016, the Governor of the Bank of Canada, the Minister of Finance, and the Minister of Status of Women announced that Viola Desmond, a Nova Scotian businesswoman and civil rights champion, will be the first woman to appear on a Canadian bank note.
Internationally, Canada has done its share as part of the UN Commission on the Status of Women and vigorously supports the HeForShe solidarity campaign launched by that organization.
Once again, I tip my hat to the leadership of our Prime Minister and the Canadian government in promoting gender equality.
But, Madam Chair, this is a cause on which all Canadians must lead. This is the thrust of the bill before you today. Government cannot do this work alone, and the mere passing of legislation without public recognition of and engagement with the challenges we face will be insufficient.
You may rightly wonder what exactly an annual gender equality week might look like. Each year across the 338 federal ridings in our country, gender equality week can inspire girls, boys, men, women, and those of minority gender identity and expression to take part in a dialogue to establish a more inclusive society. If we work together, Madam Chair, we can find solutions.
As parliamentarians we can use this designated week to deepen relationships and collaborate with our community leaders and advocacy groups. This work could take the form of community town halls and debates, research proposals, television and social media reports, fundraising initiatives, marches, arts and music, and other forms of advocacy. Through its emphasis on fostering local community-based dialogue on gender equality, we can also serve to strengthen current federal initiatives and communities across our country.
In my riding of Mississauga—Lakeshore, young people as well as seniors have participated in the development of the bill that is before you today. Members of our youth council have specifically expressed concern about the difficulties faced by women in entering and excelling in the workforce. Leaders in our community of seniors could play a big part in an annual gender equality week. They have seen first-hand how attitudes and policies have and have not changed with respect to gender equality, and their input would be critical to eliminating gender-based disparities, including poverty, for the next generation and beyond.
Madam Chair, our great country is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Canada has achieved so much since Confederation, yet on the issue of gender equality and equity, there's still so much more to achieve.
Bill C-309, An Act to establish Gender Equality Week, is an effort to raise collective awareness of existing gender-based inequality and to work toward the establishment of a more inclusive society.
We need to be able to identify problems in a frank manner and understand that governments cannot solve the issues alone. This is an effort on which we must all lead, and we have before us an opportunity to achieve real progress in our communities and across our country.
Thank you, Madam Chair. I look forward to the committee's questions.