Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to speak in support of Bill C-309, which would designate the fourth week in September as gender equality week.
Equity, social justice, and compassion for all individuals are core values shared by all Canadians. At every level of government, we as a nation have legislated gender equality, yet women and people of marginalized gender identities and expressions continue to be victims of violence, hate, and discrimination.
Their lived experiences speak to a very different reality than the ideals of gender equality we as Canadians aspire to achieve.
We know, for example, women are more likely to be among the poor. We know indigenous and aboriginal women are disproportionately represented in jails and prisons. We know there is unequal pay for women who do equal work, with equal education. These are just a few reasons why we all have a responsibility to address the challenges that women continue to face in our society.
Allow me to illustrate the importance of establishing gender equality week.
In my riding of Scarborough North, a one-of-a-kind shelter has been in operation for more than 25 years. Juliette's Place, also known as Homeward Family Shelter, provides temporary refuge for women and their children who are escaping from domestic violence. The women assisted by this wonderful organization often face multiple points of oppression. They are women of colour, as well as indigenous and aboriginal women. They are members of the LGBTQI2-S community. They include immigrants, as well as undocumented workers. They come from all backgrounds and socio-economic classes.
Regardless, Julliette's Place is there to help these women and their children, providing them a place to stay upon fleeing from horrific situations of domestic violence.
They also help the women secure longer-term housing, as well as find work, and access other social services. For those with children, Julliette's Place can provide resources for legal custody arrangements. The incredible staff, volunteers, and board members of the shelter serve to advocate for these women and their children.
Julliette's Place is the only shelter of its kind located in north Scarborough, but there are many such organizations in all parts of our country. This is unfortunate. I say it is unfortunate because there is, and continues to be, a need. All too often, organizations like Juliette's Place are just around the comer from where we live, yet they are deemed invisible, invisible until we find out a family member or friend is affected by domestic violence, or we find ourselves as victims.
Gender equality week is a designated time each year for us to highlight the reasons why organizations like Juliette's Place exist, to shine light on the work before us that is unfinished. As Canadians, we must talk about domestic violence, about the barriers to equality that women and people of marginalized gender identities and expressions continue to face.
Juliette's Place also does important outreach work, speaking to businesses and faith groups, and running workshops in schools. It teaches children that violence in the family is unacceptable. This empowers students to approach their teachers and guidance counsellors to talk about abuse in their own homes. School social workers may then have an opportunity to provide specific information to families in need, linking them with supportive resources in their community.
Education can be a first step to prevent violence from occurring or recurring. That is why gender equality week is so important.
There remains much work for us to do with respect to gender equality, as women continue to face barriers in all facets of life.
With that said, some trends are indeed positive. For example, women today are achieving higher levels of education than ever before. Studies by Statistics Canada showed that in 1990, only 14% of women aged 25 to 54 held a university degree. By 2009, this figure had increased to 28%. In fact, today more women than men have earned a university degree.
The 2011 national household survey released by Statistics Canada said that 53.7% of university-educated Canadians aged 25 to 64 were women. Despite these trends, women continue to face tremendous barriers in the workplace.
Women are under-represented in certain fields, most notably in jobs related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Not only are women under-represented, but their average earnings are also considerably lower compared to those of men. Achieving gender equality is a monumental task, one that requires all Canadians to have a better awareness and understanding of the issues at hand.
Indeed, our government is committed to growing the middle class, investing in Canadians, and creating a fair and just society. If we are to work toward achieving these goals, then we must also achieve gender equality. To effectively grow the middle class, we must eliminate the wage gap faced by women. To invest in the success of Canadians, we must address the reality that women and their children continue to be victims of domestic violence. To achieve a fair and just society, we must ensure that all women are treated fairly and justly.
The creation of gender equality week highlights the challenges before us to achieving a society free from violence, hate, and discrimination. It encourages all three levels of government to work together with stakeholders to achieve this goal, stakeholders like academia, the private sector, the media, not-for-profit organizations, and social service agencies like Julliette's Place.
Gender equality week compels us to think about the ways in which inequality affects not just women in general but especially women of colour, indigenous and aboriginal women, members of the LGBTQI2-S community, poor women, and women of minority faith groups.
It makes us realize that achieving gender equality is just as much about achieving social equality for everyone. I stand with women and people of all gender identities and expressions in the fight for equality for all Canadians. I stand in support of Bill C-309 as an important step in the right direction, knowing full well that change is neither quick nor easy, but it begins with courageous conversations.
Through gender equality week, I hope that all Canadians will take a moment to reflect on the progress we have made, the challenges before us, and the change we all want to see. This is a national conversation that we must have, one that recognizes the importance of furthering the project of gender equality for a fairer and more just society. I implore all my colleagues in this House to support this important legislation.