House Call with Carol Hughes

International  Women’s Day meant to challenge assumptions

Every year on March 8 we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD), which has its roots in the suffragette movement at the turn of the 20th century, but continues to remind us that despite many victories, there is still a lot of work to do. This year the theme of IWD is about building a gender-balanced world where women are represented in equal proportion to men in every aspect of life, whether we are talking about women in leadership positions, in government, or even sports; to give women equal status helps ensure continued economic and social growth in Canada and around the world.

What is important to consider is that creating equal opportunities has nothing to do with the oppression of men. On the contrary, men play a key role in the promotion of gender-balance by helping to build inclusive organizations. This also goes to show that gender balance is no longer a goal that can only be worked towards by women alone. Consider how we now expect businesses and governments to include gender-balance as a priority and not some general goal. As we make progress, there are more examples of how stereotypes and biases against women in high-profile positions and traditional gender roles are being questioned and broken down.

Although Canada has committed to promote the participation of women in politics, a recent article in L’Actualite reveals that we do not have the appropriate mechanism in place to monitor how certain policies impact men and women working for the government. This leads us to the question, how can we ensure that the different governmental organizations positively contribute to gender-balance? By enforcing existent programs that have been loosely implemented in the past and by continuing the dialogue around gender parity and the representation of women.

An example of the work that parliament can undertake to tackle inequality in our institutions was provided this week when New Democrats called for a fair and universal employment insurance program that does not discriminate against women. The reason it’s needed is because Employment Insurance eligibility criteria are flawed and sexist. They don’t take into consideration the fact that women are more likely to experience precarious employment which makes them ineligible for Employment Insurance. That helps explain how 50 percent of men are eligible for the program as compared to only thirty percent of women and offers a clear example of bias that must be addressed.

Despite raising awareness about and discussing gender-based issues, we must also strive for concrete implementation of the solutions we arrive at. That is why national and international women’s organizations and monitoring is so essential. They help us ensure we meet our goals, such as a true 50/50 parliament in Canada. Although this current federal parliament has the highest percentage of women in its history, we should resist the temptation of patting ourselves on the back and recognize that we can do even better and become true leaders for gender-balance in politics.

These are just a few reasons why it is important to mark International Women’s Day. It allows us to celebrate the progress women have made and the increasing visibility that women’s rights receive along with the voice it gives to those who were once marginalized. There is wide-spread support for equality in Canada, but the road towards that is not always even or predictable. By celebrating International Women’s Day, we recommit ourselves to the principles of equity and justice and remind ourselves of the challenges we need to address-together.