Gender Inequality in Canada – Lessons from Iceland

Where Does Canada Rank?

On September 19th, former Conservative MP and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, referred to the Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna as a “climate Barbie” on Twitter (see the exchange here). McKenna responded by saying, “We need more women in politics [and] your sexist comments won’t stop us.” When a right-wing reporter used the same name-calling tactic, Mckenna again had to fight back (and she doesn’t regret it!) As these examples suggest, gender inequality still exists Canada, despite our reputation as one of the best countries in the world to live in. If you attended the UNA-V Day of the Girl Event last month in Burnaby, you will have already taken part in the important conversation that needs to be had on this topic.

When it comes to living standards, Canada ranks in the top ten globally based on the Human Development Index (HDI). In terms of seeing how progressive a country is socially, Canada ranks 6th in the world based on the Social Progress Index (SPI). According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), three of the top five cities in the world for livability are in Canada (Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary). However, when it comes to measuring and comparing gender inequality, Canada does not rank as high as it does in other categories. Comparing Iceland, the most “gender equal” country to Canada shows this.

For most of the last decade, Iceland has been ranked number one in Global Gender Gap Report, a report that the World Economic Forum publishes each year measuring gender equality of 144 countries based on combination of four categories (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment).


Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 9.58.25 PMIn the 2016 report, Canada was ranked 35th globally with a score of 0.731 (0.000 meaning complete inequality and 1.000 meaning complete equality). In the new report for the year 2017, Canada moved up 19 places to rank 16th globally. The biggest improvement since last year was in the category of Political Empowerment (measures the gap between men and women in the parliamentary and ministry positions) where Canada moved up 29 places. However, if we consider all categories together and when we look at the data over the last twenty four years from wage gaps to promotions in the workplace, Canada has shown little improvement relative to other major industrialized countries. In fact, the highest ranking that Canada ever achieved since the publications of the report started in 2006, was in the same year where they ranked 14th globally. The Globe and Mail wrote an article regarding the persistent problem of gender inequality in Canada and it pointed out, “If the trend isn’t addressed, long-term drawbacks for our economy will be unavoidable”.

As we will see in the data presented in this article, much more has to be done in order to combat gender inequality and why a stronger progressive agenda needs to be put forward, similarly to what has happened in Iceland since 1975.

1975 Icelandic Women’s Strike

On October 24th, 1975 Icelandic women decided to go on strike and raise their concerns about unequal pay and labour rights for women in the country. They did not go to work that day and stopped all their normal daily activities. With ninety percent of women taking part in this protest, it meant that public services and industries such as the post offices, hospitals, schools, newspapers and more were either shut down or operated at reduced capacity. From facing relatively low wages to bias and discrimination in the workforce and in the political atmosphere, Icelandic women started a revolution that started a pathway for Iceland to become the most gender equal country in the world today. One of the very first examples of the success of the protests was when Vidís Finnbogadóttir became  the first female president to be elected to office just five years later in 1980.


 Icelandic women protesting in Reykjavík on October 24th, 1975, Photo: Loftur Ásgeirsson   Vidís Finnbogadóttir, became the first female president of Iceland

Vidís Finnbogadóttir

Comparing Iceland’s Gender Inequality to that of Canada

Child-Care Costs

Looking at the cost of child care in Iceland and Canada provides a better understanding of the differences between the two countries with regards to favourable policies for women. 

On October of 2016, Global News published a report that compared child care costs across different provinces in Canada. Due to unique universal child care system of Quebec, cities in the province had the least expensive child care costs with an average of $2088 per year. Whereas in Manitoba, the second least expensive city, the cost would rise substantially to $7812 per year. According to OECD, in Canada, families pay close to 25% of their total income on child care and for single parents it goes above 30%. These numbers rank amongst the highest in the industrial world. Consequently, there are families and single parents, most notably women, who have to stay home and look after the children. With the lack of incentive to stay in the workforce, there is less income available for families or single parents and less opportunities for their children to prosper and participate both in school and also after school activities.

By comparison, in Iceland, the cost for both parents and single parents is just around 5% of total income.

Labour Force and Workplace

We see tangible results of gender inequality when we look at the workplace itself. Women in Canada outnumber men when it comes to higher education with close to 60% of postsecondary students in the country being female. This number is also the highest in any OECD country. Nevertheless, when it comes to promotion in the workplace, it’s men who dominate. In a report 2017 report by McKinsey Global Institute, ‘The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in Canada’, it was revealed that in Canada women are 30% less likely to be promoted from entry level to manager, 60% less likely to go from director to vice-president and only make 15% of CEO’s in the country.

In 2010 in Iceland, a law was passed that made it obligatory for companies to have at least 40% of either gender on their boards. This would not only allow for more women to enter and stay in the workforce but inspire the next generation of women to not limit their career choices and have an understanding that they deserve to be part of a work environment as much as any man.


Reykjavík, Iceland

According to OECD, in the year 2015, gender wage gap in Canada was near 20% (difference between full-time male and female median wages and then dividing the number by the male median wages) and was high when compared to other OECD countries and also higher than the OECD average as well. In 2005, the gender wage gap in Canada was near 21%, which means that improvements in this area has remained stagnant for the last decade. Based on the rate of improvement in gender wage gap in Canada over the last two decades, it will take close to fifty years for Canada to reach Iceland’s 2015 rate. Even though Iceland is below the OECD average by around 5%, they are still continuing to improve gender wage gap due to their robust political and cultural foundations regarding importance of gender equality in their country.


In early 2017, a legislature was put forward in Iceland’s parliament that will make it mandatory for companies, both private and public, to provide proof of unbiased wage pay practices to employees. Companies that are believed to show discrimination will ultimately be penalized.

When it comes to female participation rate in the workforce, Iceland leads the OECD countries with 80% females participating in the workforce. Canada has improved over the last few decades going from 45% in 1975 to around 60% today. This is actually a decent number for Canada since the OECD average is around 50%. Yet, the rate of improvement in gender inequality in Canada has unfortunately proven to be a slow one and over the last decade, Canada has continued to fall in the Global Gender Gap Index rankings, going from being 14th in the world in 2006 to 35th in 2016. Therefore, much work has to be done and still many unresolved matters need to be addressed including gender wage gaps, childcare costs, gender discrimination in the workplace, unpaid workers and more.

In 2015, Trudeau formed the first ever gender balanced cabinet in Canada with 15 out of 31 members being women (48%). This was a radical change since the cabinet of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, contained only 12 women out of 39 members (30%). The message here sent by the cabinet was simple. It was not about saying we need exactly 50% of each gender but rather about the fact that women are more than capable of holding positions that men have dominated in holding throughout the history of this country and that the cabinet is for all Canadians. In many cases it had been decades since a woman had been given the position. For example, since the position of chief of staff was created in 1987, 15 people have been given the position with 13 of them being men. This means that Katie Telford the current chief of staff, is only the second woman to have held the position of chief of staff.  

The balanced cabinet was a positive step forward for Canada but as seen with the statistics and comparisons to other major industrialized countries, evidently more needs to be done. We can look at countries such as Iceland and examine the successful policies that they have come up with over the years while also look for and create a stronger innovative vision in order to combat gender inequality in our country because not only is it economically beneficial but more importantly, morally just.

Written By UNA Vancouver blogger, Sasan Fouladirad

Having recently received a Bachelor’s and a Masters in Economics from UBC and Queen’s University, two of the top three Economics departments in Canada, Sasan decided to spend one year outside of academia and be active in his community including writing for UNA Vancouver before returning to school for a third degree with a focus this time on Public Policy and International Affairs.

Having extensively followed the works of Economist Richard D. Wolff and Former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis since his time at UBC, Sasan started to realize how flawed the current global economic system is. As a result, economic injustice, global income and wealth inequality, global economic recessions and gender inequality are areas that Sasan has passion for and wants to continue learning more about. Sasan is currently a college instructor, teaching Mathematics and Business while also teaching students of Grades 1 to 12 at variety of other locations in Vancouver. Aside from his studies, Sasan has won three silver medals in Karate and three gold medals in Chess in the province of British Columbia and continues to train during his free time while also holding seminars throughout Vancouver for people who want to learn.

If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would it be and why?

From their cuisine to language to their sport, I love everything that Italy has to offer and one day hope to visit the country again.


Rosemary Brown Memorial & Conference: Gender, Sexuality & Disability Justice – Recap

The Rosemary Brown Annual Memorial Conference: A Review
By Tania Arora, volunteer blogger

“Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, ‘She doesn’t have what it takes.’ They will say, ‘Women don’t have what it takes.’”– Clare Boothe Luce

On September 23rd, the United Nations Association of Canada – Vancouver Branch, SFU Department of Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies and  Rosemary Brown Award for Women Committee hosted the fourth annual Rosemary Brown Memorial Conference at the SFU Centre for Dialogue. Each year the Rosemary Brown Award for Women recognizes and honours a BC based woman or organization that promotes the values and ideals which Rosemary Brown championed during her lifetime. Established in 2004, the award is given to those who exemplify the spirit of Rosemary Brown, who was a politician, mother, grandmother and activist committed to the fight against sexism and racism.

The award ceremony featured panellists who discussed the theme of Gender, Sexuality and Disability Justice. This year’s award recipient and the keynote speaker was Dr Dana Brynelsen, a life-long disability rights activist and former Provincial Advisor for the Infant Development Program (IDP) (1975-2009). In her role as Provincial Advisor, she supported the development of 53 IDPs in communities across BC and encouraged the development of a parallel network of Aboriginal IDPs. Dr Brynelsen accepted the award on behalf of the families and staff she has worked with over many years, those who have created and improved services for children with developmental disabilities. Dana attributed the success of the work to their ability to cross boundaries that had, in the past, rarely been crossed. Key to this was the driving advocacy of parents whose sons and daughters were, for the most part, completely excluded from normal community life and activity. Dr Brynelsen expressed her gratitude by saying, “This award has special meaning for me. I knew Rosemary, initially as most others in BC knew her, as a brilliant orator, politician, and passionate champion of human rights.” She concluded with a few words about the pressing concerns facing us today, “It is true that we have made great gains over the past decades, in terms of services and support in the area of disability… but how quickly gains are eroded and lost when our values and attitudes about what is important shift.”

2017 Rosemary Brown Award Recipient: Dr Dana Brynelsen

The Rosemary Brown Undergraduate Awards in Social Justice were presented by Willeen Keough and Lara Campbell of Simon Fraser University to recipients Maisaloon Al- Ashkar and Shilpa Narayan. Shilpa is an undergraduate student majoring in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies who has been involved with Youth for a Change (Surrey), Lookout Emergency Aid Society, and the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre at the BC Children’s Hospital. Shilpa has also worked on programming for refugee youth, mental health, queer youth, and elder abuse and has given keynote speeches on mental wellness. She also runs a drop-in centre for people diagnosed with HIV. Shilpa’s dedication to her studies at Simon Fraser University and her social justice work exemplify the highest standards of community engagement and academic achievement.

Maisaloon is completing a double major in First Nations Studies and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University. She works as a women’s centre coordinator in Vancouver and has been involved with The Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG) throughout her studies. Wise and sassy, she is a 20-year-old Muslim woman and displaced Palestinian who unapologetically speaks her truth.

Congratulations to all the recipients!

The Panel

Chaired by Dr Coleman Nye of Simon Fraser University, the panel explored the theme of Gender, Sexuality and Disability Justice. The first panellist, Rena Cohen of Realwheels Theatre, spoke about artistic mandate and the “Sexy Voices” creation/ performance project and how people with disabilities speak up to the world through art. The second panellist was Elisabeth Walker- Young of the Canucks Autism Network and a four-time Paralympian swimmer. In 2015 Elisabeth was chosen for the role of chef de mission (official leader and spokesperson) for Team Canada at the Para-Pan-American Games – an incredible honour that speaks volumes about her passion and reputation for advocacy. During the panel, Elisabeth spoke about the power of language and the diversity of Canada, and mobility/participation of people with disabilities. Sharing her background as an athlete, Elisabeth recounted, “By mistake, I got involved in inclusive sport and have gained so much out of it. I wholeheartedly believe that everyone — regardless of their circumstances or lived experiences — deserves the right to participate and reap the benefits of being active within their community.” Dr Delphine Labbe of University of British Columbia Occupational Science and Therapy was the third panellist. A PhD in community psychology, Labbe is interested in understanding the environmental factors that have an impact on the social participation of people with disabilities. She discussed her upcoming project on unemployment and physical ability. Our final panellist was Laura Johnston, a lawyer from the Community Legal Assistance Society and advocate for people with mental disabilities in detention. Laura conducts systemic litigation and engages in research, law reform, and lobbying efforts to improve access to justice, fairness, and the rights set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for marginalized populations. In her presentation, she spoke about the lack of rights afforded to those put in psychiatric institutions, such as forcible detention and a lack of legal representation once in the system. She also pointed out that our province’s outdated Mental Health Act does not meet Charter standards.

The legacy of Rosemary Brown is to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself, that progress is maintained and rights are upheld for the most vulnerable. Thank you to all of the conference participants and attendees. We look forward to continuing to honour Rosemary Brown by promoting dialogue that shines a light on overlooked and important issues.

Day of the Girl Panel: Hosted at Byrne Creek

Making sense of an interconnected world. Together.

Parents and students of the Burnaby School District and general members of the public are invited to attend a panel event geared to build awareness about International Day of the Girl Child and all of its implications.

The free panel event will be held at Byrne Creek Community School at 7777 18th Street in Burnaby, BC on Wednesday, October 11th from 7pm until 9pm in the Centre for Dialogue. Pre-registration is recommended at in order to receive updates and reminders; please email the number of people in your party, with names and the school affiliation (if in Burnaby).

Confirmed panelists include Ariana Barer from WAVAW and Rosio Godomar from Educate Girls Network. Both are women with extensive experience and opinions on effective strategies to empower women and girls to not only become economically self-sufficient, but to be contributors to their community and challenge society to achieve gender…

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Meet the 2017 Rosemary Brown award recipient and keynote speaker, Dr. Dana Brynelsen

Annual Rosemary Brown Award for Women, 2017 Recipient, Dr. Dana Brynelson


Dana Brynelsen is the former Provincial Advisor for the Infant Development Program of BC and worked in that capacity from 1975 until 2009. In that role she supported the development of 53 Infant Programs in communities across BC and encouraged the development of a parallel network of Aboriginal Infant Development Programs. Since their inception Infant Development Programs in BC have served over 100,000 families. She has advised on the development, operation and evaluation of early childhood intervention services in BC, Canada, England and New Zealand.  Dana has a particular interest in Family Centred Care and has presented on this topic at many conferences. She worked with colleagues and faculty at UBC to establish the Certificate and Diploma in Infant Development at UBC a first in Canada, and was successful in having the York Certificate in Infant Mental Health offered through UBC.  She collaborated in developing the course work on disability for the Family Resource Program Certificate. Dana has published in the field, served on the editorial board of Infants and Young Children and is past president of Parent Child Mother Goose, a national organization that provides training and sets the policies for this attachment based program. She is a founding member of the BCFASD Resource Society and a former Director of the Society of Children and Youth. She was involved in the development of the Early Hearing Program in BC, which provides universal newborn hearing screening and leads to early language intervention for all infants identified with hearing loss. Dana worked with colleagues to establish the Early Years Conference through UBC and the International FASD Conference. She is the recipient of many awards for her work in the areas of early childhood intervention.  These include; Year of the Child and Family Award (1979) BCACL Partnership Award (1984), Winston Churchill Fellowship Award (1987), YWCA Woman of Distinction Award (1997), UBC Doctor of Laws (2004), Federation of Community Services Award for Excellence (2009) , BC Family Resource Programs Outstanding Achievement Award (2009), BC Council for Families Distinguished Service to Families Award (2010), Order of BC (2014). Vancouver Island University Doctor of Laws (2016).  Although retired, she continues to work in a voluntary capacity.  Her current project involves advocating for changes to the court system to ensure better outcomes for our most vulnerable citizens, infants and young children in care or at risk for out of home care and their families.

Organization Profiles: Think Global, Link Local 2015

unacto11.jpgNext Friday is the second annual “Think Global, Link Local 2015” networking event, a novel opportunity for students interested in the social justice sector to collaborate with expertise from the Vancouver area and beyond.

A diverse range of local, national and international organizations will be hosting tables at the breakfast. Attendance will include professionals specializing in international development, human rights, poverty reduction, public policy, foreign relations, domestic politics, environmental and marine conversation, literacy, research, health, equality, LGBTQ rights, children’s rights, amongst several others.

In anticipation of the event, the work of several organizations are showcased:

Environmental Organizations

LOS-logo-2013-tag-large-2Living Oceans (LOS)
Healthy Oceans. Healthy Communities

With offices in Vancouver and Sointula, Living Oceans has focused its work on Canada’s Pacific Coast (both oceans and communities) for over a decade. In partnership with the provincial, federal government/First Nations LOS has been working to protect the Coast’s diverse marine life, so that future generations can enjoy the ocean’s rich environment. Ocean planning is critical for ensuring sustainability. Currently planning initiatives include: Building Marine Protected Areas (MPAS); working to ban oil tankers along the Pacific North Coast, promoting sustainable salmon farming and sustainable seafood consumption; protecting “four pillars” of our the oceans ecosystem (habitat, biodiversity, food webs and water quality); and reducing rising acidity levels as a result of c02 absorption and the maintenance of shorelines (including the clean up of marine debris).

Follow the LOS blog “Water Blogged” at
If you would like to learn more about Living Oceans, registration is still open to sit at their table next week.

GSA logo RGBGeorgia Strait
Caring for Our Coastal Waters
Mission: To protect and restore the marine environment and promote the sustainability of Georgia Strait, its adjoining waters and communities.

Georgia Strait is a marine conservation charity located in Nanaimo, working to conserve the Strait of Georgia – the 220 km inland sea between the mainland and Vancouver Island. The Strait is beautiful and rich in diversity, but is at high-risk to many threats, including: oil spills, mismanaged marine, resources, pollution and many others. An example of work pursued by the charity is the Waterfront Initiative. Based on the success stories in New York and New Jersey, the initiative seeks to bring individual actors, civil society and the private and public sector, in order to sustain and improve Vancouver’s shoreline. The goal for a “thriving, sustainable, diverse integrated and resilient waterfront” is driven by principles of collaboration, accountability, public engagement and inclusion.

Follow the Georgia’ Strait’s Twitter Feed: @GeorgiaStraitBC for up to date news!

If you are interested in getting involved with their work, you can find out more at next week’s networking event by registering to sit at the organization’s table.

BC-LOGOCanadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS)
CPAWS vision: “CPAWS believes that by ensuring the health of the parts, we ensure the health of the whole, which is our health too.”

For over 50 years, CPAWS has been Canada’s “voice for the wilderness.” Specializing in parks, oceans & freshwater, grasslands and wildlife, CPAWS mandate is to protect Canada’s diverse natural environment, through promoting awareness and encouraging individual action and partnerships.  For CPAWS, Canada has the opportunity and responsibility to lead by example, through our own national conservation efforts. Projects currently underway at CPAWS include: advocating for a strong Species at Risk Act (a projected 650 Canadian species are at risk of extinction); fighting to ensure permanent protection against the controversial use of fracking in Gros Morne Park, Newfoundland; and advancing boreal caribou conservation.

Successful past projects have included: the New Brunswick and GTA youth targeted “Get Outside Program” (2013), expanded protected lands across Canada (including the establishment of eastern Canada’s second biggest park “Tursujuq National Park” in Quebec (2012), the signing of Canada’s Boreal Forest Agreement (2010) and many others.

There are still seats available at CPAWS table! For more information on their work and to get involved, see:

Women & Children

YWCA_MetroVancouver_HorizontalGreenYWCA Metro Vancouver
Mission: is to touch lives and build better futures for women and their families through advocacy and integrated services that foster economic independence, wellness, and equal opportunities.

The YWCA is one of the longest standing, largest non-profits in Vancouver. Since 1897, YWCA Metro Vancouver has been seeking to promote gender equality. The YWCA provides a diverse range of services, including the provision of affordable housing, mentorship (including mentorship programs young Aboriginal girls, high school students, and assisting adults in professional development), legal education, support for single mothers, and many others. In addition to service provision, YWCA pursues numerous advocays projects, including “Week without violence” and “Work/Life Balance.”

See the YWCA’s latest blog post on International Women’s Day at:

If you are passionate about gender equality and issues facing women in the Vancouver Metro area, you can reach out the YWCA at “Think Global, Link Local 2015.”

Sexual Health

logoOptions for Sexual Health (OPT )

Mission: To provide comprehensive education, accurate information, support for sexual expression and reproductive choice, and confidential clinical services that help British Columbians enjoy healthy sexuality throughout life.

For 50 years OPT has provided non-judgmental and confidential sexual health services to British Colombian residents, with 60 clinics across the province. The range of services provided by OPT include: clinics, education services (including primary and secondary school initiatives), and a tool free number (1-800-SEX-SENSE).

For more information on OPT’s work in the field of sexual health, visit them online at

As previous blog posts have highlighted, planning for a post-2015 Development Agenda (and our future) requires conceptualizing the link between various issues, including the environment, international development, women’s rights and other goals.  Social justice projects can benefit greatly from collaboration and insights across themes. The meeting of Vancouver’s activist community is a promising example of our area’s shared ambition for the future. Partnerships and collaboration provide opportunities for innovation and strength.

Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 6.47.52 PMJoin us in shaping it at “Think Global, Link Local 2015″