We’re a long way from true equality

Posted on in Equality Debates

WinnipegFreePress.com – opinion/analysis
03/6/2015.   By: Doris Mae Oulton

In the women’s community International Women’s Day has become a time for celebration, reflection and action. Since March 8, 1909, when IWD was first observed, progress and achievements toward women’s economic, political and social equality have undoubtedly been made, and this we celebrate.

However, even in wealthy countries such as Canada, violence against women continues, equal pay is elusive and women are significantly under-represented in positions of decision-making and leadership.

When you look closer at the progress of some groups — aboriginal women, women with disabilities and racialized women — the picture becomes even less rosy. There is still lots of work to do.

So when will this change? The new goal is 2030.

Over the next two weeks at the United Nations there are meetings with worldwide status-of-women stakeholders who will be discussing how to accelerate progress toward gender equality and women’s empowerment. These meetings, held annually at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) around International Women’s Day, discuss topics of importance to the advancement of women and girls. This year is of particular significance because it focuses on a 20-year review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a momentous agreement adopted at the 4th Women’s World Conference in 1995.

In the lead-up to this session, all countries were asked to undertake an internal assessment of their progress in the 12 critical areas identified in Beijing, including women’s poverty, health, economic and political participation, education and human rights, among others.

Canada’s country report acknowledges challenges still remain in terms of the gendered pay gap, occupational segregation, violence against women and girls and poverty, particular in the case of aboriginal women, immigrant women, senior women and women with disabilities. A group of over 30 women’s organizations and independent experts, including the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) and others also developed an in-depth shadow report for the occasion.

Our report finds progress toward gender equality has slowed over the last decade and points to the federal government’s shrinking role in addressing issues as a possible culprit. It highlights significant remaining barriers in almost every critical area, including education, where growing low literacy and poor educational outcomes for aboriginal women and girls remain ongoing challenges. Uneven access to affordable child care, housing, food and reproductive-health services such as abortion, are also noted with concern.

Overall, the results worldwide are depressing — no country has fully achieved the goals set out in Beijing. Across the board, progress has been slow and uneven, with some countries much further behind than others. The draft political statement for the session, which is expected to be adopted on the first day of the session, urges countries to commit to accelerate progress and sets a new goal of 2030 to fully realize the declaration and platform for action.

For women who remember that 4th World Women’s Conference, this delay is a major disappointment — another 15 years would be nearly two generations since 1995. For others, 2030 may seem a very ambitious goal knowing just how far many countries are from even granting women and girls some of the most basic human rights.

There is a large contingent from Canada that attends the CSW sessions annually and actively participates in the proceedings. It includes the Canadian Federation of University Women, YWCA Canada, the National Council of Women Canada, among other organizations from Canada. For those of us who attend regularly, we know making commitments is the easiest part — it’s the implementation that’s the major challenge. When the session ends, women’s and girl’s rights advocates will begin the hard work of trying to hold our respective governments to their commitments.

In Canada our recommendations are clear: a national action plan on violence against women and girls; a national anti-poverty plan with a clear gender lens; affordable early learning and child care; federal (and where none exists, provincial) pay-equity legislation, gender budgeting, and decision-makers who are responsive to the needs of women and girls.

Doris Mae Oulton is president of the Canadian Federation of University Women, a board member of the Nellie McClung Foundation and CEO of Community and Youth Solutions.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, March 7th, 2015 at 1:50 pm and is filed under Equality Debates. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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