Women Still Have a Long Road Ahead

 By Anne Minh-Thu Quach

 

During the by‑election in the federal riding of Bourassa, I had an opportunity to attend a conference by and for women, organized by New Democrat Stéphane Moraille, the only female candidate in the riding. The opinion was unanimous: despite the numerous achievements of the past century, we still have a long way to go to achieve gender equality.

Feminism has been an impressive driver of social progress. The right to vote, access to higher education and free choice would not have been possible without the mobilization of thousands of militant and committed women who fought to have their rights respected.

Despite years of progress and the adoption, 35 years ago, of legislation making it illegal to discriminate against women in the workplace, the economic integration of women continues to be a major issue in our society.

According to Statistics Canada, women now account for 54% of university degree holders aged 25 to 64, and 60% of young adults with a university degree. Despite these positive results, several studies have shown that women are still under-represented on boards of directors in the public and private sectors, and continue to face pay equity issues (on average, women in Quebec earn 76% of the salary of their male counterparts).

Unfortunately, pay equity is just one of the challenges we face. Women are also more likely to live in poverty, and that is not likely to change with the recent Conservative reforms. By raising the age of eligibility for Old Age Security benefits, the Harper government is contributing to the impoverishment of senior women, who are already among the poorest of the poor in Canada.

As an elected representative, I am privileged to have an opportunity to work alongside strong and determined women whose energy and passion contribute to the well-­being of our communities. In fact, the NDP caucus has the highest proportion of female members. Nearly 40% of New Democrat MPs are women.

Moreover, there are many strong women in the riding, including Eva Carissimi, President and CEO of CEZ Inc., who is considered to be a pioneer in the business world and was named one of Canada’s most powerful women. Another strong woman who comes to mind is Geneviève Chevrier, President of the Beauharnois-Valleyfield Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who established her own company at age 23 and has quickly become a leader in the riding’s business community.

There is also Sara Patenaude, a farmer from the Upper St. Lawrence area who was recently voted female farmer of the year and “agricultrice de passion” by two different organizations for her outstanding work as co-owner of Ferme Alpagas des Hauts Vents in Havelock; not to mention, CSQ coordinator Mireille Proulx, who helped me embark on my career defending the rights of others.

In addition to taking their rightful place in the business world, women are also very present in the arts. Who hasn’t heard of Marie-Claire Blais, the renowned Quebec author who has received numerous awards for her literary works, or Chantal Hébert, the accomplished journalist whose column we read every day? A number of young singer-songwriters also come to mind, namely, Marie‑Pierre Arthur and Feist, two of the new voices of a generation of younger women.

These women are role models for all women in Quebec. They are not afraid to take their rightful place in discussions and in decision‑making. All women have the right to achieve their ambitions, to be free to make their own choices, to contribute to the development of our nation and to live in an environment that is fair and free from poverty.

Women deserve equality and respect.

We still have a long way to go before women occupy their rightful place in positions of influence and attain absolute equality.

The New Democrats are determined to fight against all forms of discrimination; we will continue to fight for gender equality, now and in the future.

As you know, it is not uncommon for women, once elected, to be relegated to the backbenches or assigned traditionally female portfolios such as education, early childhood or health. The NDP has been more innovative in this regard.

For example, New Democrat MP Hélène Laverdière is the Official Opposition critic for international development and foreign affairs, and Élaine Michaud is the associate critic for national defence.

The NDP believes that governments have a role to play in promoting equality and, ultimately, in making equality the norm. This is not an unattainable objective. Several countries, including Norway and Cuba, have surpassed Canada when it comes to gender equality. There is no reason why we cannot achieve similar results in Canada.