CBC releases previously unseen Status of Women report

Status of Women Canada, a federal government organization associated with the Canadian Minister of Status of Women, wrote a report in February 2015 that was never intended to be released to the public.

However, as of September 7, CBC has made the report available online, sparking controversy over its findings.

The report was obtained by an Access to Information request, and is currently accessible at cbc.ca. The report is significant to anybody involved in Canadian business in any capacity because it details how much Canadian women currently suffer in the world of Canadian business. Of particular concern is the discovery that, while many women are attaining post-secondary education, men are still significantly more likely to be employed, and women are being paid substantially less for the work for which they are employed.

Businesswoman looking at glass ceiling

Illustration from The Guardian depicting the concept of the “glass ceiling,” or the barrier from advancement that women face in the contemporary business world

“Canadian women have the highest tertiary education attainment rate (55 per cent) among women or men from OECD countries, but men are more likely to be employed (84.7 per cent vs. 78.5 per cent for women)” says the report. “Canadian men are paid 20 per cent more than their female colleagues… only Korea, Japan and Germany rank higher than Canada on the gender pay gap.”

Despite the large number of post-secondary-educated women in the country, the statistics about hiring and wage gaps in Canada are compounded by government representation and other factors that influence how women are treated in the workforce. The report notes that Canada came 52nd in the ranking of gender equality in Parliament, meaning that Canada has fallen far behind in terms of government representation for women. The report specifies that there are only 25 female legislators for every 75 males in Canada.

Furthermore, the report demonstrates that Canada’s approach to childcare payment and parental leave benefits are behind other countries; specifically, we are currently 17 per cent below the average of comparable economies in terms of our approach to these issues.

Outside of a business context, the report lists other concerns about the current status of women in Canada, including the extremely high rate of violence against women and girls in the country, as well as the particular risks and violence faced by women who belong to minority groups, particularly northern or rural women, immigrant women and Aboriginal women.

While the report mentions many of the problems that Canadians are currently facing in terms of inequality, and emphasizes a lot of Canada’s shortcomings, it has also proven a useful document for those who want action and policy changes. Political parties have been paying attention to the report since it was released last week, as evidenced by New Democratic Party candidate Mylène Freeman’s recent statement on the report, which has been released on the NDP’s website.

“In Canada and around the world, it is unacceptable that women are still battling for their rights in 2015” says Freeman’s statement. “The findings in this Status of Women Canada report on the situation of women and girls across the country are very disturbing… I am proud to represent a party that is focused on actions… instead of leaving this report on the shelf to collect dust, the NDP will take action to promote change.”

The fact that political parties are responding publicly to the report and expressing a desire to use it as an inspiration for future action demonstrates the usefulness of having access to reports of this type. While the report may come off as an almost hopeless list of all of the country’s problems, its availability to the public has allowed it to become a potential catalyst for real change, as public figures respond to its contents and use them as a guide to make improvements.

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Minister Kellie Leitxch, photo courtesy of the huffington post

The report itself also offers several potential venues for change. One page, titled “International levers to advance gender equality,” details specific initiatives that have been adopted by other countries, including France’s legislative requirements for media representation of girls, tax cuts in the US that target small businesses owned by women, the European Union’s childcare strategy, and Austria’s use of gender budgeting to promote equitable opportunities for women. These international levers all provide potential models for routes of intervention that Canada can take in order to combat the issues outlined in the report.

The mission statement for the Status of Women in Canada, as detailed on their website, is to “exercise leadership and work in partnership to advance equality and increase women’s participation,” and “to provide expert advice on how to take gender equality into account in developing the best policies and programs for all Canadians.”

With the public release of this report, now seems like an ideal time to mobilize those partnerships, exercise that leadership and provide that advice so that Canada can move forward and create a better business environment for the current and future workers of Canada.

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