Canadian women’s rights groups have made big strides for gender equality, but their work is far from over.
It feels warm and fuzzy to dream that Canada is a first-world country full of polite, respectful people who promote gender equality in all things. Because it’s 2023… right? But the rise of the #MeToo movement has drawn into sharper focus the difficulties that women continue to face—from the personal to the professional in Canada. “Although born in the U.S., #MeToo has had no national boundaries in terms of impact,” says Canadian Women’s Foundation president and CEO Paulette Senior. “Today women are saying, "I will not be silenced anymore." And it’s that rallying cry, the simmering anger and the sharing of stories that have resulted in increased awareness and funding for women’s rights projects.
If you’re still not sure what the fuss is about, or simply want to know more, you need to read this roundup of the most important issues affecting Canadian women today and what local organizations are doing to help. You can also read about the 10 key Canadian moments in the history of Women's Rights.
What should I know?
1. Intersectionality matters.
Traditionally, the women’s movement has largely excluded non-white, non-heterosexual and impoverished women. Current women’s groups look at the topic of women’s rights with an “intersectional lens,” meaning they recognize that inequality disproportionately affects women who are also racialized, indigenous, differently abled or members of the LGBTQ community.
2. There's a need for funding.
Women’s advocacy groups need money after a significant dry spell. “With the new government, National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL) was active in lobbying for the funding of feminist groups in Canada,” says Anne Levesque, a lawyer and a co-chair of the National Steering Committee that governs NAWL. “Now Status of Women Canada is funding grassroots women’s groups. There was $18 million announced this year and over five years $100 million has been allocated.”
3. We have a national action plan.
Canadian Women’s Foundation has been asked by the Canadian government to work on the Gender Equality Network Canada initiative. “We’re working with about 145 locally based women from across the country—including women working in the gender-based violence sector, indigenous women, women in sports—and bringing them together over a three-year time period to identify the critical elements that will make up a national action plan for gender equality,” says Senior. The Foundation is about a year into the project.
What are the top issues affecting Canadian women in 2023?
1. Financial security
According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, around 1.5 million Canadian women live on a low income. Women are also more likely to live in poverty than men due to factors such as motherhood and the choice (or expectation) to devote more time to unpaid work including childcare, housework, meal prep and eldercare. Add to that fact that full-time women workers make only 74 cents on every dollar earned by men and Canada has no national childcare strategy, and it’s easy to see that something has to give.
2. Violence against women
“An issue that is always a top priority in Canada—40 years ago, 20 years ago, now—is violence against women,” says Levesque. In fact, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner. In April of 2018, NAWL held a national meeting with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women and reunited 20 feminist groups to discuss some of the challenges that Canada continues to face. “What came clearly out of the recommendations of these groups was that we need national legislation to clarify that violence against women is a human right’s violation,” says Levesque. “Therefore, the state has an obligation to prevent violence against women, but also to respond appropriately when women are faced with gender-based violence.” Simultaneously, Canadian Women’s Foundation is working on funding its own initiatives like teen healthy relationships programming to help young people identify healthy and unhealthy relationships and prevent violence before it starts. The Foundation is also in the process of fundraising for the #AfterMeToo fund, which “will provide support to organizations that work with women who have experienced sexual assault and harassment,” says Senior. “Because what we’re seeing across Canada is an increase in demand for these services at over 100 percent,” says Senior.
3. Workplace harassment
Women are four times more likely to experience sexual harassment at work than men. Seriously. To tackle this issue, NAWL and the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) recently appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights to discuss bill C-65, which is “the bill proposing to amend the Canada Labour Code to address workplace harassment in federally legislated workplaces,” says Levesque. “Both of our organizations advocated for a feminist analysis of the legislation because the bill is written in a gender-neutral way, but women workers—and especially women workers who are indigenous, who are racialized, who have disabilities, and who are members of the LGBT community—are adversely impacted and are more at risk of being harassed in the workplace.” NAWL and NWAC want more detailed harassment reports so that Canada can have better statistics about who is vulnerable. They also advocated for improved enforcement mechanisms, the use of competent investigators who can hear evidence of harassment in a neutral and unbiased way, and funding of programs to raise awareness and create an anti-harassment culture.
4. Women in leadership
In order to have a government that more accurately represents the Canadian population, we need more diversity—in gender, race, education and more. Canada’s federal Cabinet is currently split evenly between men and women, but only 27 percent of the seats in the House of Commons belong to women. The stats are even worse for leadership roles in businesses in Canada. Women hold only 15 percent of the CEO positions and 25 percent of the vice-president positions, and only 8.5 percent of the highest paid roles in Canada’s 100 top listed companies are held by women.
How can I get involved?
Now is the time for change. “We’re in a moment of momentum building where we can seize the opportunity to protect the gains that we’ve made and really, really advance gender equity in a very profound and lasting way,” says Senior. Want to get involved or donate to the cause? Visit canadianwomen.org or nawl.ca for more information.