Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-309, an act to establish gender equality week. I wish to thank and commend the member for Mississauga—Lakeshore for presenting this bill to the House. This is an important matter that requires attention. This is one way, among many, to bring this matter the attention it deserves.
I would like to begin by thanking all those who have fought for the rights of women in particular. We have come a long way. However, we know that more work needs to be done. This bill recognizes that, and this government recognizes that.
I recall my own experience when I was at the University of Western Ontario Western Law School. I would walk up and down the hallways, and I noticed on the walls there were pictures of each graduating year. There was something about the picture from 1962 that got my attention. I remember the year clearly because it was the year I was born. What was different about that picture from 1962? It was the first picture of a graduating class that contained a woman.
I looked at the woman in that picture, and I had great appreciation and admiration for her. I thought to myself, what would it be like to be the only woman in a class with a completely male faculty, with only male student colleagues beside me, and what would it be like to get ready to embark upon a profession that was completely male-dominated? I knew at that time that I was in that place because that woman helped pave the way to get me there. I had great gratitude and appreciation for what that woman had done for me.
I am happy to say that my graduating class was almost 50% women. Has there been improvement? Absolutely. Was that a positive step? It sure was. However, in practice, the imbalance was still felt. There was more than one occasion when I was on the phone on files with lawyers, when they asked me to put the lawyer on the phone. I had to tell them that I was the lawyer.
Let us be clear, this is not about forcing women to occupy certain positions, professions, or occupations. This is not about quotas or ideological thinking. This is about ensuring that every woman sees every opportunity, occupation, and profession as something that is available to her, so that she can pursue her dreams. This is about ensuring that every woman sees every position as something that is within reach. This clearly involves a commitment to education and change.
Having served in education for the past 20 years, I have witnessed first-hand its benefits. I have seen the amazing power that our youth possess. Our youth can clearly change the world. It is important to inform, educate, and encourage our youth to support all people, regardless of gender, in pursuing their dreams and goals. This is about ensuring that each person, no matter their gender identity, is able to recognize, and celebrate their gifts and pursue that which enables them to share their gifts with the world.
This bill would encourage schools to have open, full, and robust conversations about gender in the classroom. It would be in and through these conversations that students would more fully support the advancement and inclusion of all people. It would enable youth to consider trades and professions that they may not have believed available to them. It would encourage our young people to strive for justice. I know first-hand how important justice is to our young people. They make great sacrifices in order to ensure that justice is done. Once the educational piece is provided, it would encourage and facilitate active involvement of our youth.
Throughout my experience working as a chaplain in high schools, I have noticed there has been slow change over the last 20 years. For example, I saw more women signing up for the auto class during those past 20 years, and I know that the women have done fantastic in those classes. I have seen some now go on and occupy the position of a mechanic, and the most important thing is, they absolutely love the job.
Is there more that needs to be done? Absolutely, but I am proud of the work that this government has done thus far in terms of knowing what needs to be done and recognizing that. I want to provide an example from my beloved city, Hamilton. Both of our amazing post-secondary institutions, Mohawk College and McMaster University, teach engineering and engineering technology. I know that both of these great schools are working hard to encourage women to apply, but women are still significantly a minority in faculties and as students. We only have to look at the health sciences to see that a male dominated profession can successfully change its culture to open its doors to women.
I think that women start losing interest in science, technology, engineering and math in elementary school and in high school. In my experience, both as a chaplain and as a mother, there can be subtle and even subconscious bias in favour of young men. Perhaps it is as simple as subtly changing the way math is taught or presented in schools, or perhaps making sure that girls and women have also received positive reinforcement that is traditionally provided to young men versus young women in STEM classrooms.
All I know is that we can do much better at welcoming, and including women into the STEM disciplines to access the widest and deepest talent pool as we train data scientists, artificial intelligence experts, and system engineers of the future. I wish to acknowledge and commend the efforts of our Minister of Science who I know is working hard on this.
I know there are many on board on this issue. I know, for example, the Canadian building trades are doing what they need to do in order to encourage women to participate. I have seen presentations given at their meetings. I remember one particular slide that showed up at a presentation they had at their meeting, and the slide was of two people, a woman and a man. It showed the path to get to the successful end, and to succeed in the trade. The man's path was very straight, and there were no obstacles. The woman's path, on the other hand, curved, with obstacles on the way. There was a puddle, a hurdle, and a snake pit. It clearly demonstrated the difference that we need to do more in this area, but that they were working on that in order to make that a reality. There was a plea to be more open and more accepting.
I have met women who are working in the trades, and they are delighted to be bricklayers, pipefitters, or any other worthy trade. Rosie the riveter is alive and well in the Canadian building trades. Women in the trades are thrilled to participate, and are very conscious of their pioneering role. It is always very inspiring for me to speak with them, and hear the stories of them overcoming their challenges to achieve success.
Much work does remain to be done before we achieve gender equality in the workforce. Again, let me stress that gender equality week is not about putting women above men or excluding men from opportunity. Not at all, it is quite the opposite. Gender equality week is about creating an equal playing field, so people of different genders can feel free to participate in any aspect of Canadian society.
Gender equality week is about the fundamental Liberal belief that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, and that each one of us deserves to be able to define our goals, and achieve them through hard work with no artificial bias or prejudice creating blocks and obstacles. Gender equality week is more about the freedom of all Canadians, because a society in which each person feels free to choose their future and participate is a confident society, a confident society that generates optimism, hard work, success and prosperity, because every citizen feels like their hard work may be rewarded.
This is the type of society I want to live in, and that is what the bill helps us achieve.