The Gleaner

Progress, yes; equity/equality for women, no

The theme in Canada for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress.” Women and Gender Equality Canada suggests this is “a call to action and a reminder that gender equality is one of the most effective ways to build healthier, more prosperous, and more inclusive communities.”

It is important to remember that it was only in 1970 that the position of the minister responsible for the Status of Women was created within the federal government; however, it only became a full position in 2015. The Canadian Human Rights Act was passed in 1977. It forbids discrimination based on “sex” and ensures equal pay for work of equal value for women. The act was amended in 2017 to add gender and gender expression as protected grounds. In 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was signed, including “sex” as one of several prohibited grounds for discrimination. There has been a whole slew of laws and policies enacted to uphold and defend women’s rights, but somehow these have failed to translate into reality.

As pointed out by Isabelle Corbeil in an opinion piece published on page 16 of this edition, women continue to be more vulnerable in many aspects of their lives. Women face higher levels of discrimination, lower average incomes, and greater responsibility in terms of family responsibilities. These issues remain pervasive today despite the great progress that has been made in recent years.

This is especially the case in Quebec, where it is a little harder to envision equity for all women given the recent actions of our provincial government. Premier François Legault was slammed by the Quebec bar association after he cast doubt on the impartiality of federally appointed judges, after the Court of Appeal ruled subsidized daycare spots must be available to the children of asylum seekers. Legault argued these spaces should be reserved for citizens, which generally discriminates against all asylum seekers settled in Quebec but especially women, as this willkeep newly arrived mothers of small children from seeking employment.

In another drama that played out this week, the Court of Appeal upheld almost all sections of Quebec’s controversial secularism law, known as Bill 21. The law prevents public school teachers, police officers, government lawyers, and numerous other civil servants from wearing religious symbols at work, and, many argue, disproportionately targets women. Lawyers arguing before the Superior Court stated they could find no examples of anyone in any organizations across the province who lost or was refused a job because of Bill 21 other than women. In all these cases, the women were Muslim and wore a hijab. Legault referred to the ruling triumphantly as a “great victory for the nation of Quebec.”

We need to do more to ensure that ALL women are treated equitably in Quebec. In 2024, women– no matter their circumstances – should be able to access the resources and opportunities they need to succeed, without the government raising more hurdles.

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