Today, March 8, this year’s celebration of International Women’s Day takes place in a much more favourable environment than in previous years.
Thanks in great part to the powerful momentum generated by the #MeToo movement, the intense glare of the public shaming of sexual abusers is making waves. There is a frontal attack on society’s traditional tolerance of sexual harassment and sexual assault against women in the workplace and in situations where they are the hapless victims of abusive men holding positions of power and influence.
It is heartening that that movement has led to the founding in the United States of another anti-sexual abuse organization known as Time’s Up. Funded mainly by Hollywood celebrities, Time’s Up has already mobilized in excess of US$20 million and a team of 200 volunteer lawyers to support its legal defense cause.
On the broader international stage, most attention is still being focused on the tidal wave of disgrace that has overwhelmed American sexual abusers who wrought physical and emotional havoc in the entertainment industry, the political arena, the media, sports and elsewhere in the private sector.
In that country, three of the individuals dominating the ranks of the accused are actor Bill Cosby, Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein and sports doctor Dr. Larry Nassar of Michigan State University who also preyed on a who’s who of American Olympic gymnasts.
Here in Canada, we have certainly come a long way in the field of gender equality and women’s rights as demonstrated by these three quotations taken from a historical review of women’s rights in Canada that appears on a federal government website:
“At the beginning of the 20th century, women were denied the right to vote in provincial and federal elections.”
“By 1918, all Caucasian women had the right to vote in federal elections.”
“Starting in 1947, the right to vote was extended to some minority groups, and in 1960, all Canadians were granted the right to vote, including Aboriginal men and women.”
That blatant discrimination against women- and minorities and indigenous peoples- contrasts significantly with today’s realities for women in Canada: legally enforceable personal and property rights; full voting, employment and equal salary rights; 50/50 male/female composition in the federal government (gender parity in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Cabinet of Ministers);and the recent presentation of a pro-women federal budget.
Nevertheless, our country still has a long way to go on the road to full equity for women. Men still outnumber women in the House of Commons, the Provincial and Territorial Assemblies, and at the highest levels of management in the public service, the private sector and most strikingly on the boards of directors of the large private companies.
Moreover, Canadians have also had to bow their heads in shame in the light of a stream of individual complaints and class action lawsuits filed by women in the RCMP, the provincial and municipal police services, and the intelligence agency CSIS.
Another major failure has been the chronic crisis in the operations of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
When will Canada get anywhere close to the rating of Rwanda in terms of gender equity? This African country has the world’s highest level of female membership (61.3% in 2017) in its national parliament. It also ranks fifth in the world for its overall performance in gender equity.
Over the last two years, the City of Toronto, the Province of Ontario and the federal governmental of Canada have been placing significant emphasis on combating anti-Black racism.
In moving forward, it would be wise to collect and analyze data on the advancement of Black women in Canada, in order to have a reliably accurate picture of the country’s progress in gender equality.
No country can achieve meaningful and sustainable success without empowered women.