Hot Button Gender Equality Topics

Everyone has at least one “hot button topic” when it comes to gender equality. It may be a controversial topic rife with misunderstanding and misinformation.

People in the Canadian Women’s Foundation community ask about responses to their hot button topics. They want ideas on how to address them with friends, family, and colleagues.

It’s important to give toward, act on, and communicate about gender equality in the strongest ways we can. By popular demand, here are facts and tips that may help you speak about these controversial yet crucial topics.

Communication Tips to Remember

  • Take a deep breath before responding. You can gather your thoughts and take your time.

  • It’s okay to say, “I don’t know the answer. Can I get back to you?”

  • If someone is saying abusive, discriminatory, or offensive things, you can say “no” or “not now” to the conversation.

  • You can process the conversation afterward with someone you trust if you need to.

Gender Pay Gap

What’s the issue? It’s the difference in average earnings of people based on gender. It is a widely recognized indicator of gender inequities, and it exists across industries and professional levels.

Why is it a hot button? The gender pay gap is sometimes spoken about as “equal pay for equal work,” but that’s only one factor to consider. Other factors include the fact that women lose paid hours due to their unpaid caregiving responsibilities. The gap is sometimes blamed on “women’s choices”. But women often have to make certain job choices, and those jobs tend to be devalued and underpaid.


  • The gender pay gap is worse for those who face multiple barriers, including racialized women, Indigenous women, and women with disabilities.
  • The gap starts from a young age, can grow with the experience of workplace motherhood penalties, and carries into senior and elder years with gender retirement gaps.
  • Laws aim to prohibit gender pay gaps in Canada, but gaps till exist in practice.
  • There are different ways of measuring the gap. No matter how you measure it, it still exists.

2SLGBTQIA+ Rights and Support

What’s the issue? 2SLGBTQIA+ communities and their allies have long pushed for the right to be free to be themselves and free from abuse and targeting. There have been successes and setbacks along the way.

Why is it a hot button? Laws and policies have improved but there are still policy gaps and homophobic and transphobic social and cultural barriers to address. As of late, there have been rollbacks in 2SLGBTQIA+ rights, protections, and support, especially for trans students and gender-diverse people accessing public spaces.


  • Despite rhetoric to the contrary, there can be no gender equality without 2SLGBTQIA+ rights. The safety and well-being of women and gender-diverse people are inextricably linked. 
  • 2SLGBTQIA+ communities face high levels of unsafety and discrimination where they live, work, and play. 
  • Safety and support for trans youth and adults is an elemental part of building rights and safety for all 2SLGBTQIA+ people.

Racism, Colonialism, and Gender

What’s the issue? The roots of gender inequality are intertwined with racism and colonialism. Racialized feminists have led the way in decolonizing approaches to building gender equality, as well as an intersectional lens to rights-building that responds to barriers women and gender-diverse people face in addition to sexism (e.g. racism, ableism, ageism, heterosexism).

Why is it a hot button? There’s greater awareness of impacts of racism and colonialism than ever, but there’s also a backlash. It can take many forms: resistance to Indigenous women’s calls for justice, failure to acknowledge misogynoir (racism and sexism Black women and gender-diverse people face), anti-immigrant sentiments, denouncements of diversity initiatives, and more.


  • Women, girls, and gender-diverse people who are Black, Indigenous, and racialized face higher risk of gender-based violence, bigger pay gaps, and greater economic barriers. 
  • Racialized girls and gender-diverse youth experience barriers at school based on racism and sexism. 
  • Immigrant and newcomer women and gender-diverse people have lesser access to relevant services that meet their unique needs.

Sexual and Reproductive Health

What’s the issue? Sexual and reproductive support, rights, information, and choice are an important part of achieving gender equality and an important element of health. But laws about them are in flux. Sexual and healthy relationship education in school is also contested.

Why is it a hot button? Abortion rights are under fire, especially in the United States. In Canada, even with the legislative standards in place, accessing contraception, abortion, and sexual and reproductive health information can be difficult. Getting useful health information and services can be a challenge for women and gender-diverse people, especially for racialized women, 2SLGBTQIA+ people, and women with disabilities.


  • There’s a significant gender gap in medical research and treatments, added to gaps based on racism, ableism, and other discrimination. 
  • Reproductive justice includes access to a full spectrum of excellent supports, including abortion services, birth control, health education, and family planning. 
  • Access to abortion and other essential health services differ wildly in Canada depending on who you are and where you live.

Gender-Based Violence

What’s the issue? It’s the types of abuse women, girls, and Two Spirit, trans and nonbinary people are at highest risk of experiencing. It can take physical and emotional forms. It can happen in romantic relationships and families, at work, and between friends, acquaintances, and strangers. It often occurs in private places. Many forms of this abuse are against the law.

Why is it a hot button? Public awareness about gender-based violence has grown, largely due to survivors and advocates speaking out. But this abuse is often seen as a rare occurrence or something only “dysfunctional people” go through. There’s also misunderstanding about its gendered nature: women and gender-diverse people are most at risk, especially those who are marginalized, and they experience greater injuries, fear, and abuse severity than men.


  • In Canada, Indigenous women, women in the North, women with disabilities, and young women are amongst those at highest risk. 
  • 44% of women experience some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetimes. 
  • Rates of femicide have increased: a woman or girl is killed by violence every 48 hours.

Gendered Digital Hate, Harassment, Violence

What’s the issue? Digital abuse against women, girls, and Two Spirit, trans, and nonbinary people is a growing problem. It can happen in social media and gaming sites, and technology can also be used to perpetuate abuse (e.g. rideshare and dating apps). It is referred to as tech-facilitated gender-based violence, cyberviolence, and more.

Why is it a hot button? Sometimes, abuse in digital spaces is not treated as seriously as abuse in “real-life”, and the targeting of women and equity-seeking people is too often seen as “the cost of being online”. But impacts of abuse are damaging, no matter where it happens. Remedies and protections require action on the part of companies who operate digital spaces, as well as government and users. But the accountability is low, and measures have been slow to pass.


  • One in five women report experiencing online harassment. 
  • Racialized women, young women, 2SLGBTQIA+ people, and women with public platforms such as journalists, creators, and politicians are amongst those most targeted. 
  • The harm is significant and pervasive, and survivors can be revictimized any time the harmful material is shared. 
  • It leads to women and gender-diverse people being silenced in the public sphere.

Gender and Climate Change

What’s the issue? The climate crisis and disaster impacts everyone – but some people experience greater negative consequences and will have less protection. This includes women, girls, and gender-diverse people, especially those who are most marginalized.

Why is it a hot button? Climate crisis is both a universal problem and a gendered problem. The gendered consequences are underacknowledged in Canada, partly because research and thought leadership on the issues are still emerging.


  • Women and gender-diverse peoples’ safety needs are often missed in regional and national emergency plans. 
  • Disasters make existing inequalities worse, including gender inequalities. 
  • Indigenous and racialized women lead climate solutions, but their voices are often missing in Canada’s decision-making tables.