The year 2020 marked several international milestones for women, gender equity and health. It has been five years since the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were announced, 20 since the Landmark Resolution on Women, Peace and Security, and 25 years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
A little closer to home, this year also marked the 50th anniversary of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada, giving Canadians a chance to reflect on progress since 1970 and think about the next 50 years.
In 1967, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women sought “to inquire into and report upon the status of women in Canada, and recommend what steps might be taken by the Federal Government to ensure for women equal opportunities with men in all aspects of Canadian society”. The report was officially tabled three years later after consultations with women across the country. It marked a significant milestone in the Canadian feminist movement, signifying progress in advancing gender equality in Canada.
The Royal Commission Report made 167 recommendations for updating the legislative system and addressing issues critical for women in eight categories:
Women in the economy
Women in the family
Taxation and childcare allowances
Women’s participation in public life
Immigration and citizenship
Criminal law and women offenders
The stated goal was to “increase women’s autonomy, bringing women’s voices into positions of power and decision-making, and create a solid foundation upon which women could gain equal status to men in all aspects of Canadian society”.
To celebrate 50 years, the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health (CanWaCH) and the Department of Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE) co-hosted a virtual event on 7 December 2020 to recognize past advancements and address challenges to accelerating gender equality.
The event’s first session, ‘The past 50 years: Trailblazing women who overcame roadblocks, influenced policy and fought for the empowerment of all women’ (watch here) extolled the last 50 years of work done by trailblazing Canadian women to advance gender equality in the country.
The second session, ‘The next 50 years: A youth perspective on current challenges and action for the next five decades’(watch here) was hosted by the Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development. She said the gaps in the report needed to be addressed politically and personally by every citizen, and Canadians needed to “be comfortable being uncomfortable” for progress to be made.
Major themes highlighted by session panellists included the following:
Women in the economy
The number of Canadian women in leadership positions is greater than before, but even today, less than five per cent of Canadian CEOs are women. In addition, the wage gap persists—women earn approximately 87 cents for every dollar a man earns.
Panellists noted that while opposition to overt sexism had increased, systemic barriers persisted for female-identifying groups. They highlighted the need to update the report to include all groups—e.g., transgender persons and other non-cis gendered people.
Ms. Monsef also spoke of the report’s omission of racial inequalities, calling for the need to address intersectionality and dismantle oppression in sectors across Canadian society. She then closed the session with a call to action for all Canadians.
“Actions matter—lifting up others matters. The most important thing that we can do as feminists and equity seekers is to be kind to one another because the work is hard. The work is exhausting. Systems change slowly and not necessarily naturally. A deliberate, coordinated, relentless attempt leads to systemic change. There has never been a better time to be a woman in Canada, and we owe it to those who’ve come before”.
She said the half-century marker served as a reminder to Canadians to appreciate and value the momentous strides made since the Status of Women Report, but to stay vigilant. “It’s small changes in the pursuit of progress that lead to ‘tectonic shifts’ in society. Complacency isn’t an option”.
Edited by Ali Shahrukh Pracha