Today is a day to celebrate women’s achievements. It’s also an opportunity to look at how every person, including myself, can play a part in closing the gender gap. To achieve true gender equality we will need to resolve the many inequities, discriminations and barriers women face and incite real social change to establish equal political, social and economic opportunities for women. As Hillary Clinton said, women's rights are human rights; all humans beings are born equal.
Although our society made progress towards gender equality, women and girls continue to face discrimination in every part of the world, including Alberta. Many key issues women face have long been considered “women’s issues” - things like affordable childcare, reproductive freedom, gender-based violence and the pay gap. But these are in fact human issues, and these human issues affect all of society.
For example, women are still and often paid significantly less than men for the same work. As a result, women and girls are often experience the most poverty. Women in poverty are limited in their social and economic opportunities, perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Our society continues to pay significant costs associated with poverty and lost human potential.
The Famous Five:
Prior to 1929 women were not considered “persons”, at least not in the full legal sense of the word. At a time when women were strongly discouraged from gathering and talking about politics, five Albertan women, later known as the “Famous Five”, met in secret to discuss women’s rights. These meetings led to their first petition, also known as the “Persons Case”, seeking to establish the right for women to be appointed to the Senate. They took their petition all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Eventually, the Supreme Court rejected their petition, ruling that women were not “qualified persons”. Although they were disappointed, the Famous Five were not discouraged, and they decided to approach the highest court authority in England. On October 18, 1929, their petition was approved, changing the course of history in Canada and in all Commonwealth countries. Together, these courageous pioneers paved the way for women to hold public office in Canada.
While this history is important, progress towards equality has been slow. At the current pace of change, experts estimate the wage gap won’t disappear until 2125 - that’s 108 years from now! To pick up the pace, we need to acknowledge that gender inequality still exists today. It’s my hope that young girls like my niece Maddy grow up with the opportunity to earn as much as my sons or nephews, regardless of race, age or orientation. I hope she has the right to become a mother without sacrificing her career, while being able to access the same opportunities as men.
Historically, women in Alberta have held fewer roles in leadership and government, and still face the largest gender pay gap in Canada. In 2014, City Council supported and endorsed the Edmonton’s Women's Initiative, which promotes equality of opportunity, access to services, justice and inclusion for women in the city. The initiative is among the first of its kind in Canada and is helping to ensure the perspectives of women and girls are included in conversations that shape our city. These women’s voices come from difference backgrounds, are different ages and races, and have a wealth of unique experiences that inform their perspectives. And it’s their job to provide ideas and guidance to City Council and Administration on issues that affect Edmonton’s Women. These issues include child care, safety on public transit, city planning, and beyond!
In January, the Women’s Initiative released a scorecard highlighting the issues that matter most to women in Edmonton. The scorecard evaluated the quality of life for women as related to five goals: 1. Finance and Economy: 2. Leadership, Political Empowerment and Participation: 3. Education: 4. Health and Wellness: 5. Safety. Overall, Edmonton women are above or on par with Canadian women in the three goals of Finance and Economy, Education and Health. The two goals for improvement are Safety and Leadership, Political Empowerment and Participation.
Edmonton also is committed to preventing and addressing gender-based violence. The “It’s Time” initiative aims to reduce and ultimately end gender-based violence and sexual assault in Edmonton. My wonderful Council colleague Bev Esslinger has my gratitude and admiration for her leadership on both the Women’s Initiative and the gender-based violence initiatives.
I am grateful to be part of a community of leaders who are tackling these inequalities and providing space for this awareness to turn into action and change, but as a fairly privileged male, I need to reflect on how I contribute to these persisting inequalities. I believe reflection needs to begin in our homes, where traditional roles can be leveled and parenting needs to be a shared journey. I need to share the family responsibilities with my wife. I need to stay home with sick kids or shuttle them to their sport activities. It’s important to model this behaviour, to show my nieces they shouldn’t expect less or dream smaller than any of my sons or nephews. It also extremely important for me to model a commitment to equality for my sons, so they in turn commit to helping achieve and maintain equality.
The more people who commit to overcoming these struggles the faster we will achieve gender equality in governments, businesses, communities and in day to day life.
Happy International Women's Day to all women, particularly those many women, whose leadership inspires me and inspires a better community and world for everyone. And a special shout-out to each of my nieces - Julianna, Sawyer, Elayna and Maddy. This International Women’s Day is a powerful reminder for me that we have a long way to go.