Crowd of women with hands raised

Is gender equality sliding backwards?

This is a consistent question that I’m hearing from women and girls across Canada. And the concern is valid, particularly as we mark International Women's Day.

When we look around the world, it’s clear that hard-won progress can quickly be lost. Women are still blamed for being sexually assaulted, too often our careers are stalled because of a lack of affordable childcare, and world leaders are casually espousing sexist and misogynistic beliefs without repercussion.

According to the World Economic Forum 2016 Global Gender Gap Report, no country has fully closed the gender gap, and it will take another 170 years before there is global equality between the sexes. While Canada has made advancements (like the first cabinet in Canadian history to be gender-balanced), it still only ranks 35th among 144 countries covered in the index and has fallen five spots, having previously been ranked 30th.

There is much to be concerned about, but it’s how we respond to these challenges that’s important. My message, particularly to young women and male allies, is: don’t give up. It’s important to remember that we’ve had setbacks before. We have long fought for gender equality in Canada, and we simply cannot back down, no matter how daunting the challenges appear to be. The change we need is big, but our cause is just and future generations cannot wait.

We need to play the long game, speak up, and take action against injustice, while placing inclusion and intersectionality at the centre of everything we do. I am heartened that women and men who have never marched or protested have taken to the streets to raise their voices and stand up for gender equality, not just for themselves but for all women and girls globally. These actions remind us that we’re not alone in our fight and that our voices matter.

We must also celebrate the achievements: through collective organizing, we’re electing more women to public office, we’re making advancements to close the gender pay gap, and we’re empowering girls to be confident in who they are through positive messaging and campaigns like the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s #GirlPowered initiative.

We can no longer just imagine the society we want for women and girls – we need to take bold action to make it happen, and ensure that gender equality doesn’t slide backwards in Canada.

Governments, corporations, and non-profits must stand alongside individuals to protect women’s rights and advance gender equality. Together, we need to use our voices and our actions to champion what is right. The path towards gender equality is never clearer than when it’s threatened. 

As the late Rosemary Brown, politician, social activist and one of the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s founding mothers once said, “Until all of us have made it, none of us have made it.”

Paulette Senior is the President and CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation. 

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