Thank you so much, Marilyn, for your very kind words. I appreciate that. I've started making my way around, but I'm a talker, so I didn't get all the way around. I hope to get to know all of you in a little more detail soon.
Madam Chair, I welcome the opportunity to appear before this committee today. I understand that Meena Ballantyne and the executive team of Status of Women Canada met with you last week to give you an overview of the agency and its work.
Today I first want to take the opportunity to commend the committee for all of its important work ahead on issues that make a critical difference in the lives of women and girls across our great country. I very much look forward to collaborating with the committee as we work together to create promising futures for all women and girls across Canada.
Let me say at the outset how proud I am to have the opportunity to serve all Canadians as Minister of Status of Women and to serve my constituents as a brand new MP. Both of my new roles allow me to continue my own professional and personal journey, which includes service to the community and social advocacy.
What has most often motivated me in my career, and still does today, is the desire to improve the lives of others and to help ensure that everyone has a real and fair chance to succeed. I intend to fulfill my duties by working with others in a renewed spirit of innovation, openness, and collaboration, just as the Speech from the Throne committed our government to doing last fall.
As a government, we are strongly committed to ensuring the full participation of women in the economic, social, and democratic life of Canada. As you heard from my agency last week, women have in recent decades made significant progress in educational attainment, participation in the workforce, and taking on leadership roles through the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors.
At the same time, we know that more progress is possible. It may be 2016, but violence against women and girls persists. Women remain under-represented in many sectors of our economy and in many leadership positions.
One of our government's first priorities is to address the urgent need to reduce and prevent gender-based violence in our society. It goes without saying that violence against women is not acceptable, and it should never be tolerated in our society. In my previous role, leading one of the largest homeless shelters in my home community, I saw first-hand the effects of gender-based violence, deep-rooted gender inequality, and victimization. As we know, these conditions cause profound suffering for women and girls. What I also saw was how the ripple effects from violence, such as poverty, inadequate housing, and lack of victim supports, can lead to overwhelming cycles of intergenerational poverty and violence that are very difficult to overcome. Still, we do know that change is possible and that we can create more hopeful futures.
How we respond to the issue of gender-based violence can make a real difference in the lives of women and their families. Our government is taking action. We have launched an inquiry into the high number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in our country. Over the past three months, as part of the pre-inquiry process, I and my colleagues, the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs and the Minister of Justice, have met with and listened to survivors, families, and loved ones. We've also heard from representatives of front-line services and indigenous organizations, and we've been profoundly touched by the stories that we've heard from family members and loved ones who have been directly affected by these tragic deaths and disappearances.
In the coming months, we'll be announcing details of the inquiry and how the inquiry will contribute to the government's commitment to reconciliation and a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous people in Canada.
I've also begun meeting with organizations, advocates, my provincial and territorial colleagues, and international experts to discuss innovative ideas that can be part of a comprehensive federal strategy to reduce and prevent gender-based violence. As part of this effort, our government is also committed to growing and maintaining Canada's network of shelters and transition homes as part of our infrastructure plans. We're taking these actions because enabling women and girls to live violence-free lives can remove a critical barrier to realizing their full potential and move us closer to gender equality.
When it comes to advancing gender equality, our government is also committed to leading by example. Under the Prime Minister's leadership, women now hold 50% of cabinet positions for the first time federally, and we are committed to ensuring that the federal government's senior appointments are merit-based and demonstrate gender parity. We also believe in making sure that the needs of women and girls are fully understood when we design new policies, programs, and legislation. For this reason, we will be applying a gender lens to the work that we do, taking into account the different impact our decisions will have on women when compared with men.
We've also accepted the recommendations of the Auditor General's report that was released this month. It recognized that progress has been made in implementing gender-based analysis, commonly referred to as GBA, across many federal organizations. However, we agree with the Auditor General that more work is needed to enhance the implementation and the impact of GBA.
As we move forward, Status of Women Canada will continue to promote GBA as an important competency for federal officials that will strengthen its application across the federal government. I will be working closely with my cabinet colleagues to ensure that departments are using GBA so that the work of the federal government is even more responsive to the needs of all Canadians, both women and men.
Madam Chair, these actions we are taking to move us closer to gender equality are not just the right thing to do for women but they are the smart thing to do for our economy. Women's contribution to the economy was $130 billion in 2012, or approximately 7% of the GDP, according to the RBC. If we make gender diversity a priority in all sectors of the economy, this contribution to Canada's growth and prosperity will be even greater.
As you also heard last week, our international ranking when it comes to the gender wage gap is falling. Canada now ranks 28th out of 34 OECD countries for the wage gap between male and female full-time, full-year workers.
Our ranking with respect to gender equality has also been losing ground internationally. Canada dropped 10 positions, falling to 30th out of 145 countries in the World Economic Forum 2015 Global Gender Gap Report.
Canada's persistent gender wage gap and the lack of gender balance in democratic institutions are cited as reasons for the significant decline. We know Canada set a record in the last election, with women now holding 26% of seats in the House of Commons.
As a government we have clearly stated that we want to make meaningful progress on reducing the wage gap between men and women across this country, and our government is strongly supportive of the principle of pay equity. That's why we supported the motion recently passed by the House of Commons to have a special committee examine this issue.
However, pay equity is only one small piece of the puzzle. No single individual, organization, or level of government will be able to single-handedly solve the gender wage gap in our country. We will need the support of our provincial and territorial partners to find innovative ways to close the gender wage gap. In fact, I expect this issue to be among the topics addressed with my provincial and territorial colleagues at our annual meeting this June, and, of course, we as a government are committed to doing our part.
Status of Women works collaboratively with stakeholders in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors on projects at the national, regional, or community level that increase the representation of women in leadership and decision-making positions. In fact, last week I announced a new call for proposals, inviting organizations to propose projects that will empower women in two different ways. The first will identify projects that engage indigenous woman and strengthen the role they play in their communities. The second involves projects to empower women for political or community action.
Another way to address the gender wage gap is by removing specific barriers that affect the labour market participation of women. This is why we are committed to addressing issues such as child care, better access to flexible work arrangements, and more accessible home care.
Finally, Madam Chair, it is important that we take advantage of occasions such as the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York next month to make sure that Canada's voice is heard internationally when it comes to advancing the rights of women and girls around the world. I look forward to doing just that on behalf of Canada.
We will also be celebrating International Women's Day next month in Canada, in order to bring even greater attention to the need to advance gender equality. We will promote the vision that women and girls who are empowered are better equipped to fulfill their potential for themselves, their families, their communities, and indeed their country. This theme reflects the fact that we know women's empowerment is an essential ingredient in achieving gender equality. However, we must also move from vision to action and acting together.
Each of the actions I've spoken about today reflects the confidence I have that if we do work together, we will increase opportunities for women across our country, move Canada closer to gender equality, and inspire young women and girls all at the same time.
Let me end by saying how much I look forward to working with this committee over the coming months to tackle some of the barriers to achieving gender equality in this country. My agency and I would be happy to provide any information you need as you deliberate on your priorities for action going forward.
Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions.