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.

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 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.

Reykjavik

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.

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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

Sasan
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.

 

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The International Day of the Girl: Keys for Achieving Equality

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*Guest Post by UBC Student Ambassador, Karina Hsaio*

The Sustainable Development Agenda was created in 2016. This agenda introduced 17 different goals which are used as directives to eradicate global poverty. One of the crucial goals included is the need to achieve gender equality. International Day of the Girl is an important annual event that acknowledges the issue of gender inequality, promotes the empowerment of both women and men, and most importantly brings communities together.

Currently no country has successfully achieved gender equality; without the proper framework and policy implementations, women are made vulnerable to violence and discrimination. Countries also lack the relevant policies to prevent discrimination in the workplace, therefore women are still being treated unequally. Women worldwide earn less than men, for every dollar earned by men women earn 23 cents less. In politics, women represent a minority in national parliaments. When women’s contributions in the workplace are not valued equally, they are discouraged from entering the labour market or pursuing professional careers. Moreover, politics has long been viewed as a male profession; thus, without the participation of women, not only will this sector remain male dominated, policies related to the rights women will also lack the nuance necessary to achieve genuine equality.

BzmjOzbIIAAzJgY.png_large-500x500Education is one tool we can use to eradicate poverty and the problem of sexual violence. Women easily fall into the cycle of poverty due to lack of education qualifications. Without the equivalent skillsets required by the labour market, these women have limited choices when it comes to employment, and usually end up in temporary jobs. Not only are temporary jobs unstable, they also pay lower wages. Allowing women to participate in the market through stable employment will increase labour efficiency in companies; it allows the economy of a country to grow faster and stronger. Most importantly, a high percentage of women will be lifted from poverty.

The inability to secure permanent employment is one of the main reasons that women continue to rely on their husbands for financial support. Additionally, if the wife is also a victim of domestic abuse she may decide to remain silent for fear of financial insecurity. Educated women are employable women, and employable women are independent women.

But the empowerment of women and girls is insufficient for socio-cultural change – men and boys also need to be part of the conversation. Communities need to acknowledge the fact that gender equality is a fundamental human right. Men and boys are important actors in process of achieving gender equality because gender equality affects everyone.

When men and women are viewed as equal, the labour market will have a greater chance of achieving equal pay. Healthy relationships between both genders can only be achieved if mutual respect is developed. It is important to remember that the push towards societal change in gender equality does not mean pinpointing a specific culprit. Numerous factors contribute to creation of gender inequality, and it is the responsibility of the whole community to correct gender stereotypes and unfair behavior.

Other than promoting gender equality through the discussions in UN general assembly and hosting annual events like International Day of the Girl, the United Nations also promotes gender equality at the local level. To enable relevant skill development, UN Women supports computer training programs in South Sudan and India. Economic empowerment is promoted by encouraging women to start their own businesses. For example, in a Guatemalan village, women who were part of the indigenous community were encouraged to participate in an all-female entrepreneurship project. Through education empowerment women were given the relevant skillsets needed to participate in local elections, thus enabling them to participate in decision making.

The issue of gender equality has received high levels of attention internationally, and the United Nations serves as a vital platform for leaders and organizations to continue this work. However, changes can only be achieved if local and international entities improve and work alongside each other. On the international level, countries need to recognize gender equality as a basic human right and promote changes within their own administrations. Individuals and local organizations need to work together and ensure durable changes at the local level. Communities need to embrace the values of gender equality by improving access to education and through policy implementations. 

2015 John Gibbard Award for Youth Recipient – Anjali Katta

Rev. Epperson, Anjali Katta, Tazul Ali.
Rev. Epperson, Anjali Katta, Tazul Ali.

To celebrate each UN Day (October 24), the Vancouver Branch recognizes an outstanding youth, or group of youth, who are working towards global betterment.  In partnership with the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, this year’s recipient for the John Gibbard Award for Youth was Anjali Katta. At just 18 years old, Miss Katta is already an established gender equality activist. She is the CEO of her own non-profit, GirlsCo., that seeks to educate and inform youth about the issues that women and girls face, while raising money for girls education in developing countries. She also founded Bombay Pads, a program that delivers sanitary pads and sexual education to schools and orphanages in India. Earlier this year, Plan Canada chose Miss Katta as a Top 20 Under 20 Award.  She is currently studying at Stanford University.

Here is Miss Katta’s full acceptance speech:

Hello, my name is Anjali Katta and I am 18 years old from Vancouver BC. I just want to start off by thanking UNA Vancouver and the Unitarian church for this lovely event and for presenting me with this award. Awards like these are not the reason I do the things I do, but they give me hope in that the community I live in understands the importance of my work and also understands the importance of the cause I am championing for. In a sense giving the issues of gender equality and the empowerment of girls the validation and the credibility they deserve. The United Nations Association of Vancouver’s work with educating young people through awareness building is integral in crafting a brighter future for the local community, so I just wanted to reiterate how thankful I am for the work they do. I also want to thank my parents, despite how much I grumble and groan, they are the reason I am able to stand here, and their lessons and beliefs are the reason I’ve chose to dedicate a part of my life to improving the lives of those who live in my community and beyond. A final thank you goes to all the teachers and mentors who have helped put together events or guided me when I needed it most. Your help was essential in everything I’ve done from the equality summits to the countless fundraisers. I remember, once a venue cancelled a week before an event and I was absolutely terrified and completely lost. But a teacher came through and worked tirelessly to help me find a venue, and the event was a success. This example is representative of how lucky I am to know the people I know. And as lucky and privileged as I am, I am still disadvantaged.

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I am a girl. It breaks my heart, that gender, even in 2015, defines many of my opportunities. Trying to navigate the world as a girl, I can’t help but think about how far the movement for equality has come and how far there is still to go. A lot of people deny that there is more work to be done. They look back and take stock of the progress so far, and ask do we still need feminism. I’ve realized the best way to answer this question is to imagine what our lives would be like if the women’s movement had never happened and the position of women had remained as they were in the year of our birth. If you look back 30 or 20 or even 10 years ago, the change that happened over these periods is perceptible and significant, and therefore proves that feminism was and still is needed. I believe that girls are born with an inherent sense that they are equal but every single thing around them tells them they are less than. Don’t get your dress dirty! You can’t do that you’re a girl. If you’re a girl please jump off the smaller ski hill. You can’t debate, you’re a girl and girls get too emotional. These are all phrases that I’ve heard in my life and I can’t imagine what girls hear all across the globe. Every girl is smart and kind and clever and strong and unique and has an equal right to happiness, safety, and freedom. If we give a girl a chance, give her the tools to believe in herself and that she truly is just as capable, imagine how different the world would be. How many mothers would be able to teach their children to value an education? How many girls would be able to stand up in class and not care about the way she looks? How many girls won’t have to have their beauty equated to their intelligence? How many girls would be able to lift, not only themselves, but their family’s out of poverty? I’m saying this because each and every one of us owes it to the girls of tomorrow to take an active role in creating a future with more equality and less disparity. Every one of us should be conscious of what we say and do, the little things: like using the word girl as in insult or underestimating talents simply because of gender. We should foster discussion around equality and empower at a young age. Much of my work has centered around discussion and volunteering with younger girls, and I can attest to the difference instilling confidence can make. They stand taller, talk louder, and exist unafraid to let their voices be heard. Gender should not define opportunity and it’s our obligation to make that statement a reality. How much more peaceful, how much more free, and how much more just the world would be with more equality. So the next time you see a girl, don’t tell her how pretty she is—tell her how smart, kind, clever, interesting or the millions of other adjectives she is. Thank you.

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Tanya Smith, Courtney Szto, Tama Copithorne, Maurice Copithorne, George Somerwill, Anjali Katta, Tazul Ali, Patsy George.