moved that Bill C-309, An Act to establish Gender Equality Week, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a pleasure to rise today to speak about my private member's bill, Bill C-309, An Act to establish Gender Equality Week.
First and foremost, a word of thanks to my incredible team, particularly to my legislative assistant, Adrian Zeta Bennett; to the amazing team of parliamentary legislative drafters, particularly Wendy Gordon; and to all who have contributed ideas, comments, and collective views over the past months, and especially the women in Mississauga—Lakeshore and in many other parts of our country who encouraged Adrian and me to push ahead with this project.
We connected with provincial and municipal governments, ministers, indigenous women's groups, local women's shelters and organizations, such as Armagh House, and the Mississauga and area chapter of the Congress of Black Women of Canada, the LGBTQ2 community, academia, advisory committees, and individual citizens.
Bill C-309 is truly a team effort, and I am very grateful for all the ideas, questions, and suggestions that have brought it to where it is today. The story began when my friend and former schoolmate, Rachelle Bergen, walked into my constituency office last spring. Rachelle is one of the founding members of Strength in Stories, a community-based organization that draws on the power and strength of storytelling to portray the experiences of Canadian women, including indigenous women and new immigrants, where they focus on resilience and the courage to overcome obstacles.
Education and awareness are at the core of what Strength in Stories is all about.
Rachelle and I then started looking at ways we could act at the federal level to promote social and political change with respect to the status of women and gender equality in general. When I talked to her about my opportunity to introduce a private member's bill, we realized that we could spur progress by proposing the designation of a nationally recognized week during which all Canadians would be encouraged to reflect on the promotion of gender equality.
In our decision to move forward with Bill C-309, there were two specific messages that Adrian and I took on board. The first is that men need to do more of the heavy lifting when it comes to working towards equality and equity between genders. The most compelling reasons are both socio-historical and economic in nature.
The second message is that government cannot do all of the required work alone. Academia, the private sector, not for profits, community activists, and individual citizens must be close partners in this effort.
This bill is way overdue. My team and I were actually surprised that the legislation was not already in place. Moreover, as we learned more about this issue, we quickly realized how many problems there still are and how big some of those problems are. Poverty, violence, isolation, racism, the wage gap, unequal access to education and justice, and lack of equal opportunity in the sciences, technology, engineering, mathematics, politics, and sports are some of the biggest obstacles mentioned in the preamble to Bill C-309.
I think that we have to start by acknowledging the existence of those obstacles before we can have a constructive conversation with Canadians about how to tackle them.
Along the way, such inspiration came from my former doctoral supervisor, Anne-Marie Slaughter, who served as head of policy under former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and who now runs New America, a think tank and civic enterprise.
Anne-Marie Slaughter writes extensively on the issue of gender equity. Her works include a seminal article in the The Atlantic entitled, “Why Women Still Can't Have It All”, followed by the book, Unfinished Business, in which she sets out her vision of the care economy.
Her message is simple and compelling, that we must ensure that family care is given attention in the same manner as work, and that men are expected to function in roles related to family care in the same general sense as women.
International organizations are also becoming increasingly interested in the issue of gender equality. The Inter-Parliamentary Union, or IPU, an international organization that brings parliaments together, had its 135th annual assembly in Geneva last month, where it unanimously adopted a resolution entitled “The freedom of women to participate in political processes fully, safely and without interference: Building partnerships between men and women to achieve this objective”.
Among the 32 paragraphs of the preamble, article 3 of the resolution states:
3. Calls on men and women parliamentarians to work together and to take joint initiatives in parliament to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women at all levels of policy-making processes and decision-making positions;
At the IPU assembly, I was invited to take part in a gender-balanced debate on gender equality in politics, and I used that as an opportunity to tell my counterparts about Canada's new parliamentary code of conduct and the process for developing Bill C-309. Basically, the raison d'être for gender equality and equity as well as the demand for collective action are now crossing national borders without any problem.
Through its global gender gap index, the World Economic Forum has, since 2006, published annual reports to capture the full scope of gender-based disparities and efforts to address them, particularly in the areas of health, educational attainment, economic opportunities and participation, and political empowerment.
According to its 2016 report released just last month, Canada is ranked 35th out of 144 participating countries, nestled in between the likes of Luxembourg and Cape Verde, but it is ranked highest in North America.
We as Canadians must recognize that we can do much more to close gender-based disparities and gaps that exist. We must recognize that the wage gap between women and men, as the 2005 Royal Bank report highlighted, has caused up to $126 billion in lost income potential for Canadian women each year.
We must also recognize, as a 2015 RCMP report outlined, that indigenous women make up just over 4% of our population, yet account for 16% of female homicides and 11% of missing Canadian women.
In addition to the problem of gender-based violence, we must recognize that Canadian women need and deserve better health outcomes. Gender equality week could raise much awareness of the work that lies ahead.
We see elsewhere just how increasingly untenable and unacceptable it is to allow current gender-based gaps to persist. Women in countries such as France and Iceland have recently made international headlines for their bold action to protest the existing wage gap in their respective countries. In the coming days and months we may well see similar protests in some of the Scandinavian countries.
There is a clear call to action for all of us, particularly men, to do more to ensure fair, just, and positive outcomes for everyone. That is why I am so proud that our current government under the leadership of our Prime Minister has been proactive in its commitment to do more to ensure a gender equal Canada. The attainment of gender parity in cabinet sent a clear message, not just to Canadians, but to people around the world, that anyone, regardless of gender, should have access to the opportunity to maximize her or his individual potential.
Indeed, the World Economic Forum has also acknowledged in its recent report that this measure “would clearly boost Canada's ranking” in future reports, as it helps the empowerment of Canadian women.
Along with the Minister of Status of Women's work to strengthen implementation of gender-based analysis across federal departments and to develop a federal strategy against gender-based violence, the federal government is taking critical steps to advance gender equality. Through its emphasis on fostering local community based dialogue on the challenges we face, gender equality week can serve to strengthen current federal initiatives in communities across our great country.
Our Prime Minister has repeatedly emphasized that reconciliation with our indigenous communities is a key aspect of his and our government's agenda, which is why the launching of the public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls was so significant.
I hope that gender equality week will also raise awareness on the prevalence of gender-based violence and inadequate health outcomes for indigenous women in Canada. The conversations that my team and I had over the spring and summer with indigenous groups as we developed the bill underscored that gender equality week could function effectively toward this end.
I envision gender equality week as a uniquely Canadian platform through which additional momentum for social change can be generated. Some of my colleagues may wonder, quite appropriately, what exactly an annual gender equality week would look like. As elected representatives in our respective communities, we as parliamentarians will be able to use this designated week to build and strengthen relationships with community advocates and organizers, with students, with directors of women's shelters, indigenous leaders, corporate executives, researchers and many others who take this issue seriously and are willing to work hard toward a more inclusive society.
Most importantly, gender equality week can inspire all Canadians—girls, boys, men, women, and those of minority gender identity and expression—to foster and participate in an ongoing constructive dialogue on how to best tackle and solve such challenges, including the wage gap between women and men; gender-based violence against women, particularly indigenous women; the lack of equitable access by women to legal recourse in cases of abuse; the barriers inhibiting women from attaining careers in the STEM fields, senior management roles, or representation on various elected bodies; and the obstacles faced by women who are newcomers to Canada in terms of employment, language, training, and professional accreditation. For Canadians of minority gender identity and expression, these challenges often present themselves in an even more profound manner.
My bill encourages federal, provincial, municipal, and indigenous governments; not-for-profits; academia; indigenous communities and organizations; the private sector; sports organizations; first responders; our armed forces; the media; and civil society at large to participate in an ongoing conversation, and then, during gender equality week, raise collective awareness of these challenges and identify constructive solutions.
This effort could take the form of community town halls and debates, research proposals, plays, television and social media reports, fundraising initiatives, marches, art and music, and many other forms of advocacy. In other words, gender equality week would create an opportunity for Canadians to become engaged in and champion the issue of gender equality in as many different ways as are reflected in the needs and aspirations of our local communities, and thereby strengthen national awareness of existing inequalities.
There will truly be room for everyone: children, students, established professionals, new Canadians, and seniors. There will be some who are going to argue that we do not really need gender equality week, and others who may claim that it does not go far enough.
Very few people will deny the very real challenges facing our society, such as gender-based violence, including violence against indigenous women, or the obstacles faced by women in predominantly male occupations, including our armed forces, and police and fire services. There is still discrimination. Those of minority gender identity and expression face challenges every day. Older women feel isolated. Others bear the brunt of the wage gap's social and economic impact. We need to do more for these individuals, for these Canadians. Gender equality week will give us the opportunity to do more.
Above all, gender equality week would advance inclusiveness from coast to coast to coast in this great country. Canada is already known around the world for its diversity, for its protection of individual and collective rights and freedoms, and for its tolerance. We take great pride in not merely accepting but appreciating and celebrating the multitude of different cultures, ethnicities, perspectives, and approaches of our fellow Canadians. We hold ourselves to a higher standard in the treatment of others, and we are resolute in our belief that better is always possible. Therefore, we know that more work does indeed remain ahead of us.
It is my hope that as it moves forward, Bill C-309, an act to establish gender equality week, will inspire members of the House and all Canadians to do more, to engage in our local communities on the challenges we know to exist, and to work together to achieve true gender equality across our country.