Mr. Sven Spengemann (Mississauga—Lakeshore, Lib.)
moved that Bill C-309, An Act to establish Gender Equality Week, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a pleasure to rise today to speak about my private member's bill, Bill C-309, An Act to establish Gender Equality Week.
First and foremost, a word of thanks to my incredible team, particularly to my legislative assistant, Adrian Zita Bennett; to the amazing team of parliamentary legislative drafters, particularly Wendy Gordon; and to all who have contributed ideas, comments, and collective views over the past months, and especially the women in Mississauga—Lakeshore and in many other parts of our country who encouraged Adrian and me to push ahead with this project.
We connected with provincial and municipal governments, ministers, indigenous women's groups, local women's shelters and organizations, such as Armagh House, and the Mississauga and area chapter of the Congress of Black Women of Canada, the LGBTQ2 community, academia, advisory committees, and individual citizens.
Bill C-309 is truly a team effort, and I am very grateful for all the ideas, questions, and suggestions that have brought it to where it is today. The story began when my friend and former schoolmate, Rachelle Bergen, walked into my constituency office last spring. Rachelle is one of the founding members of Strength in Stories, a community-based organization that draws on the power and strength of storytelling to portray the experiences of Canadian women, including indigenous women and new immigrants, where they focus on resilience and the courage to overcome obstacles.
Education and awareness are at the core of what Strength in Stories is all about.
Rachelle and I then started looking at ways we could act at the federal level to promote social and political change with respect to the status of women and gender equality in general. When I talked to her about my opportunity to introduce a private member's bill, we realized that we could spur progress by proposing the designation of a nationally recognized week during which all Canadians would be encouraged to reflect on the promotion of gender equality.
In our decision to move forward with Bill C-309, there were two specific messages that Adrian and I took on board. The first is that men need to do more of the heavy lifting when it comes to working towards equality and equity between genders. The most compelling reasons are both socio-historical and economic in nature.
The second message is that government cannot do all of the required work alone. Academia, the private sector, not for profits, community activists, and individual citizens must be close partners in this effort.
This bill is way overdue. My team and I were actually surprised that the legislation was not already in place. Moreover, as we learned more about this issue, we quickly realized how many problems there still are and how big some of those problems are. Poverty, violence, isolation, racism, the wage gap, unequal access to education and justice, and lack of equal opportunity in the sciences, technology, engineering, mathematics, politics, and sports are some of the biggest obstacles mentioned in the preamble to Bill C-309.
I think that we have to start by acknowledging the existence of those obstacles before we can have a constructive conversation with Canadians about how to tackle them.
Along the way, such inspiration came from my former doctoral supervisor, Anne-Marie Slaughter, who served as head of policy under former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and who now runs New America, a think tank and civic enterprise.
Anne-Marie Slaughter writes extensively on the issue of gender equity. Her works include a seminal article in the The Atlantic entitled, “Why Women Still Can't Have It All”, followed by the book, Unfinished Business, in which she sets out her vision of the care economy.
Her message is simple and compelling, that we must ensure that family care is given attention in the same manner as work, and that men are expected to function in roles related to family care in the same general sense as women.
International organizations are also becoming increasingly interested in the issue of gender equality. The Inter-Parliamentary Union, or IPU, an international organization that brings parliaments together, had its 135th annual assembly in Geneva last month, where it unanimously adopted a resolution entitled “The freedom of women to participate in political processes fully, safely and without interference: Building partnerships between men and women to achieve this objective”.
Among the 32 paragraphs of the preamble, article 3 of the resolution states:
|| 3. Calls on men and women parliamentarians to work together and to take joint initiatives in parliament to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women at all levels of policy-making processes and decision-making positions;
At the IPU assembly, I was invited to take part in a gender-balanced debate on gender equality in politics, and I used that as an opportunity to tell my counterparts about Canada's new parliamentary code of conduct and the process for developing Bill C-309. Basically, the raison d'être for gender equality and equity as well as the demand for collective action are now crossing national borders without any problem.
Through its global gender gap index, the World Economic Forum has, since 2006, published annual reports to capture the full scope of gender-based disparities and efforts to address them, particularly in the areas of health, educational attainment, economic opportunities and participation, and political empowerment.
According to its 2016 report released just last month, Canada is ranked 35th out of 144 participating countries, nestled in between the likes of Luxembourg and Cape Verde, but it is ranked highest in North America.
We as Canadians must recognize that we can do much more to close gender-based disparities and gaps that exist. We must recognize that the wage gap between women and men, as the 2005 Royal Bank report highlighted, has caused up to $126 billion in lost income potential for Canadian women each year.
We must also recognize, as a 2015 RCMP report outlined, that indigenous women make up just over 4% of our population, yet account for 16% of female homicides and 11% of missing Canadian women.
In addition to the problem of gender-based violence, we must recognize that Canadian women need and deserve better health outcomes. Gender equality week could raise much awareness of the work that lies ahead.
We see elsewhere just how increasingly untenable and unacceptable it is to allow current gender-based gaps to persist. Women in countries such as France and Iceland have recently made international headlines for their bold action to protest the existing wage gap in their respective countries. In the coming days and months we may well see similar protests in some of the Scandinavian countries.
There is a clear call to action for all of us, particularly men, to do more to ensure fair, just, and positive outcomes for everyone. That is why I am so proud that our current government under the leadership of our Prime Minister has been proactive in its commitment to do more to ensure a gender equal Canada. The attainment of gender parity in cabinet sent a clear message, not just to Canadians, but to people around the world, that anyone, regardless of gender, should have access to the opportunity to maximize her or his individual potential.
Indeed, the World Economic Forum has also acknowledged in its recent report that this measure “would clearly boost Canada's ranking” in future reports, as it helps the empowerment of Canadian women.
Along with the Minister of Status of Women's work to strengthen implementation of gender-based analysis across federal departments and to develop a federal strategy against gender-based violence, the federal government is taking critical steps to advance gender equality. Through its emphasis on fostering local community based dialogue on the challenges we face, gender equality week can serve to strengthen current federal initiatives in communities across our great country.
Our Prime Minister has repeatedly emphasized that reconciliation with our indigenous communities is a key aspect of his and our government's agenda, which is why the launching of the public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls was so significant.
I hope that gender equality week will also raise awareness on the prevalence of gender-based violence and inadequate health outcomes for indigenous women in Canada. The conversations that my team and I had over the spring and summer with indigenous groups as we developed the bill underscored that gender equality week could function effectively toward this end.
I envision gender equality week as a uniquely Canadian platform through which additional momentum for social change can be generated. Some of my colleagues may wonder, quite appropriately, what exactly an annual gender equality week would look like. As elected representatives in our respective communities, we as parliamentarians will be able to use this designated week to build and strengthen relationships with community advocates and organizers, with students, with directors of women's shelters, indigenous leaders, corporate executives, researchers and many others who take this issue seriously and are willing to work hard toward a more inclusive society.
Most importantly, gender equality week can inspire all Canadians—girls, boys, men, women, and those of minority gender identity and expression—to foster and participate in an ongoing constructive dialogue on how to best tackle and solve such challenges, including the wage gap between women and men; gender-based violence against women, particularly indigenous women; the lack of equitable access by women to legal recourse in cases of abuse; the barriers inhibiting women from attaining careers in the STEM fields, senior management roles, or representation on various elected bodies; and the obstacles faced by women who are newcomers to Canada in terms of employment, language, training, and professional accreditation. For Canadians of minority gender identity and expression, these challenges often present themselves in an even more profound manner.
My bill encourages federal, provincial, municipal, and indigenous governments; not-for-profits; academia; indigenous communities and organizations; the private sector; sports organizations; first responders; our armed forces; the media; and civil society at large to participate in an ongoing conversation, and then, during gender equality week, raise collective awareness of these challenges and identify constructive solutions.
This effort could take the form of community town halls and debates, research proposals, plays, television and social media reports, fundraising initiatives, marches, art and music, and many other forms of advocacy. In other words, gender equality week would create an opportunity for Canadians to become engaged in and champion the issue of gender equality in as many different ways as are reflected in the needs and aspirations of our local communities, and thereby strengthen national awareness of existing inequalities.
There will truly be room for everyone: children, students, established professionals, new Canadians, and seniors. There will be some who are going to argue that we do not really need gender equality week, and others who may claim that it does not go far enough.
Very few people will deny the very real challenges facing our society, such as gender-based violence, including violence against indigenous women, or the obstacles faced by women in predominantly male occupations, including our armed forces, and police and fire services. There is still discrimination. Those of minority gender identity and expression face challenges every day. Older women feel isolated. Others bear the brunt of the wage gap's social and economic impact. We need to do more for these individuals, for these Canadians. Gender equality week will give us the opportunity to do more.
Above all, gender equality week would advance inclusiveness from coast to coast to coast in this great country. Canada is already known around the world for its diversity, for its protection of individual and collective rights and freedoms, and for its tolerance. We take great pride in not merely accepting but appreciating and celebrating the multitude of different cultures, ethnicities, perspectives, and approaches of our fellow Canadians. We hold ourselves to a higher standard in the treatment of others, and we are resolute in our belief that better is always possible. Therefore, we know that more work does indeed remain ahead of us.
It is my hope that as it moves forward, Bill C-309, an act to establish gender equality week, will inspire members of the House and all Canadians to do more, to engage in our local communities on the challenges we know to exist, and to work together to achieve true gender equality across our country.
Ms. Marilyn Gladu (Sarnia—Lambton, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Mississauga—Lakeshore for bringing forward Bill C-309, the bill on gender equality week. I want to say at the outset that I am absolutely and fundamentally opposed to discrimination on the basis of gender, and so I will be supporting this legislation.
The preamble in the bill is fairly long, but it lists a lot about the current state of our nation in terms of what women are facing. Today I want to focus on three of those areas: first, the violence that women are experiencing; second, poverty; and third, the continued discrimination that women face in Canada.
I am the chair of the status of women committee. Our committee is currently undertaking a study that looks at violence against women and young girls. We have heard absolutely horrific testimony, and the statistics that have come our way are really horrifying. We studied date rape on campuses in Canada. At campuses across our country, 29% of young women are sexually assaulted in the first eight weeks that they are at university. This is horrific. This is totally unacceptable. When we delved into the reasons for that, it was very disturbing to hear that among men ages 18 to 24, one-fifth of them think it is okay to force sex on a woman. This happening in our country today and at this time just shows the state of where we are at.
We heard testimony as well that, right here in Ottawa, 40% of women who show up to complain of sexual assault are turned away at the police station without even filing a report. That is unbelievable. Of the 60% who do file a report, 5% of them actually go to trial, and of those maybe 1% are successful. The penalties applied are measured in months, while the victims suffer for years.
The state of the nation in Canada in terms of violence against women and young girls is totally unacceptable.
The member talked about indigenous women. They are even more at risk of violence, and this is a huge issue. I really would encourage the government to move on this. With respect to the inquisition into murdered and missing aboriginal women that is going on, $14 million has been spent in the pre-consult and there will be another two years of consulting at a cost of $54 million, and there has been no action. We really need to move. We understand the issue. There are many reports with recommendations that we could start on. I would like to see action as well as consultation.
Another very vulnerable group is immigrant women. We did have testimony as well about women who come from South Asia and various other countries. Not only do they face violence but they face language barriers and all kinds of other issues, leaving them very vulnerable and in serious need of help.
We also heard about transgender people and the huge amount of violence that they are experiencing. We need to improve in this area. We need to get better quickly.
Looking at some of the statistics, women are four times more likely to be victims of intimate partner homicide, and half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since they were 16 years of age. Two-thirds of Canadians say they have personally known at least one woman who has experienced physical or sexual abuse, and up to 80% of the perpetrators are men.
Gender inequality exists at all levels of our lives. From personal interactions to workplace practices, women are systematically on a different playing field.
The second thing I want to talk about has to do with poverty. We have heard people speak today about the wage gap that exists. I was fortunate enough to be on the pay equity committee that studied this issue, the special committee that was put together this last term. How disturbing it was to hear witness after witness before committee say that in 2004 the Bilson report was written and it was a very fulsome report, and to put it into effect would be the right thing to do.
Twelve years later, here we are, and women still make 73¢ for every dollar that men make. Canada is ranked 80th in the world. This is totally unacceptable for a country like Canada that is supposed to be the best country in the world. We need to do more.
I heard the member refer to the under-representation in science, technology, engineering, and math. I am passionate on this issue. I am always talking about women in engineering and the difficulties I faced personally. There were 13% women when I began and it is not much better now, maybe 25%, depending on the field. Therefore, there still is a wage gap, even in that high-paying field.
There are also barriers to promotions. The old boys' club is still alive and well. We have heard reference to the glass ceiling. These things are absolutely still true in our country. There are barriers to women being on boards. We saw an article in the paper just recently saying that although the federal government has done a fairly good job getting to gender parity, the crown corporations are still at 34% representation. We need to see activities happen there.
As for women in politics, I am very pleased to see 26% women in the House. The women in the House are bringing harmony, intelligence, and some great things, but I would like to see that number come to gender parity and gender equality. I know the minister has supported Equal Voice with an initiative to try to promote getting more women as candidates so we can have more women in the House. That is good.
We need to recognize that in our country there are people suffering in poverty, and disproportionately many of them are women. We are talking about elderly widows, single moms, and transgendered people. There are a number of demographics that are really suffering, and it is discriminatory. They have trouble getting a job. They have precarious work. In many cases, they did not work through their choice, and now their husbands have passed away, and there they are in poverty.
To get over poverty is a complex issue, but education is one of the keys. Mental health and getting over addictions is another key. Having well-paying jobs to go to is another key. There are lots of activities we can do to try to address the poverty issues we face in the country.
Gender equality week would bring women's poverty to the forefront. In Canada, more than 1.5 million women are living on low incomes. The Canadian Women's Association measures that 16% of single senior women, 28% of visible minority women, 33% of women with disabilities, and 37% of first nations women live in poverty. We need to do something about that.
Statistics Canada concluded that women spend more time on the care of children and the house than men. They also spend double the number of hours on child care, 30% more hours doing domestic work, and 50% more hours caring for seniors. We have talked about the wage gap. We need to do something to lift these women out of poverty and to address the continued discrimination that women feel in the country.
We heard testimony about the rape culture that exists. They described a rape pyramid, where at the top we see violence against women in all forms, but at the bottom of the pyramid we see all kinds of behaviours that women in our country are experiencing on a daily basis. Catcalling, harassment on the street, slut shaming, victim blaming, and all these things are happening and are commonplace. We are very normalized to them. We need to raise the bar on those. That is why I am very supportive of anything we can do to bring awareness to the issue of the problem we have with gender inequality in the country and the discrimination that people are facing.
There are lots of different types of events that can be done. Some members were on the Hill to participate in the Hope in High Heels event, which I did not participate in because I cannot walk in high heels. However, my staff was able to do it, and it certainly was a great event. There was lighting up the tower this week, on Tuesday, to stand in solidarity with women who have been victims of violence and abuse. These are all good things.
Gender equality week would be a great way to raise that awareness. It would happen in the middle of women's history month, where we have the day of the person, and the day of the girl. Why not gender equality week?
It is my pleasure to support Bill C-309, and I appreciate the opportunity to speak to it today.
Ms. Sheila Malcolmson (Nanaimo—Ladysmith, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, we definitely need gender equality. There is no question. Canadian women earn only 74¢ for every dollar earned by men. Domestic and sexual violence cost our economy over $12 billion per year. There are 1.4 million women who report, and few report, having experienced forms of sexual violence in the last five years. One in four women in their lifetime will be affected by gender-based violence. Canada ranks 60th in the world when it comes to gender parity in our parliaments. We are behind Kazakhstan, South Sudan, and Iraq. Then we just had this very high-profile loss with the U.S. election of president where a lot of us are saying that a highly qualified woman lost to an under-qualified man. It is important to raise the profile of the contribution that Canadian women have made to the growth, development, and character of our country. There is no question.
Already this year, we have women on bank notes, we have a gender-balanced cabinet, and we have this bill being debated today to establish gender equality week. None of that makes a whit of difference in the lives of Canadian women on the ground. I suggest respectfully that the best way to honour women is by legislating real change on gender equality. After more than a year in power, the current Liberal government has failed to translate feminist rhetoric into real change, and it is far beyond time to put words into action.
New Democrats have a great list of actions that could be taken to make a difference in the lives of women and girls.
Number one on the list of actions is pay equity legislation now. Women make 74¢ on the dollar. Aboriginal women with a university degree earn 33% less, so the gap increases the more educated indigenous women are. Although the legislation was written 12 years ago when the previous Liberal government was in power, the government now says its target is late 2018. There is no excuse for that. Not a single witness recommended that kind of time lag. Women have waited 40 years for pay equity, and they should not have to wait any longer.
Another action is more women in Parliament. There are only 26% in this House. At this rate, it is going to take us 89 years to reach gender parity in Parliament. Because the Liberal government voted down the candidate gender equity act last month, which would have promoted a gender-balanced Parliament, we think that the government should introduce its own measure to actually get more women in these seats. Members of Parliament who voted against the candidate gender equity act include the sponsor of this bill and the Minister of Status of Women.
We want an expanded strategy to end violence against women. We still do not have a national plan of action to promote the protection of women and girls despite the commitment made to the United Nations in 1995. Since then, many countries have adopted a national action plan. They include Belgium, Finland, France, and the United Kingdom. Australia is on its fourth plan, kind of breaking some stereotypes about Australia's cowboy mentality. Here in Canada, rates of violence against women have remained largely unchanged over 20 years, and the absence of a national action plan is resulting in fragmented approaches across the provinces and territories. We want the action plan scope that the minister is now undertaking to be expanded to include service delivery in areas of provincial responsibility. That is what a national plan is. That would mean that it includes education, policing, and the justice system, all key services that can help end violence against women.
We want well-funded women's domestic violence shelters. On any given day, more than 4,000 women and over 2,000 children reside in a domestic violence shelter, every day. More than 300 women and children are turned away from shelters on any given day. Three out of four cannot be accommodated, and those are the ones who come forward looking for help. There has been a 24% increase in phone calls at the Haven Society in my riding of Nanaimo—Ladysmith. More and more women are asking for help. We need expanded services to be able to accommodate them. We are pushing hard for federal funding to support domestic violence shelter operations, and we note that in the mid-1990s the Chrétien government cut that operational funding, which was characterized as the most Draconian spending cuts in federal history.
New Democrats want domestic violence shelters for first nations, Métis, and Inuit women. According to Amnesty International, “The scale and severity of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls in Canada... constitutes a national human rights crisis.” Some 70% of Inuit communities do not have access to any domestic violence shelters.
Indigenous women face a violence rate of three times that of the rest of the Canadian population, and yet the Liberal budget funded only five new shelters on reserve over the next five years. That would result in a total of just 46 violence against women shelters on reserve across the country, and that is by 2022, well after the government's term is over. We also have to look much more thoughtfully at violence against women shelters off reserve.
Gender-based analysis is something that we need legislated in Canada. Gender equality can be exacerbated by policies and spending decisions if we do not have a legislated lense through which these kinds of decisions are made. The Standing Committee on the Status of Women, back in June, recommended that legislation be tabled in the House by June 2017. New Democrats recommended that it be tabled next month, because we need to get ahead of all of the policy changes and infrastructure spending that is about to roll out. However, the government's response was no timeline whatsoever. It thinks that in 2018 it might have a reaction to whether we need legislation at all. Therefore, there is no timetable for legislation.
We need child care in this country, high-quality, affordable child care, that helps women seek employment, improves their job skills and careers, and eases family financial stress. I was delighted to see this week that Premier Notley, the New Democrat premier in Alberta, is creating 1,000 new child care spaces and 230 new child care jobs. As Stephen Lewis has famously said, feminism is a vacant construct without a national child care system.
New Democrats want more federal appointments of women to crown corporations. Only 27% of members of boards of directors of federal crown corporations are women. This is a power that the government has to change, right now. The Canadian Dairy Commission, for example, has no women on it whatsoever. The Bank of Canada and CMHC have mostly male board members. In my community, the Nanaimo Port Authority has a majority of women on its board, and it is a fantastic board.
The federal government made commitments to real change in the mandate letter for the Minister of Status of Women, but no action has been taken yet. If none is taken, then I will encourage the government to support my bill, Bill C-220, which would move, over the next six years, gender parity on federal crown corporation boards and commissions.
There should be free prescription birth control. The costs of family planning fall disproportionately to women, and yet it is increasingly unaffordable. Liberals should work with the provinces to provide a framework for the full cost of prescription contraceptives to be covered.
Finally, the NDP wants the government to act on its fundamental responsibility by restoring the funding cut by the Conservative government to all of the under-funded social service organizations that support women, girls, and children in our communities. This is especially urgent for women with disabilities, women who are suffering poverty, aboriginal women, and women living in rural and remote areas.
In summary, we should take real action to achieve gender equality. We believe that, when women are no longer disproportionately affected by violence, inequality, and poverty, then we could legitimately have a celebratory week. I am going to vote in support of this bill, but New Democrats are going to propose at committee that this bill not enter into force before the government implements proactive pay equity legislation and gender-based analysis legislation.
After more than a year in power, the Trudeau government has failed to translate feminist intention into real change. It is far beyond time to put words into action. Together, let us create a gender equality week once we have something to celebrate.
Ms. Anju Dhillon (Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-309, An Act to Establish Gender Equality Week. I would like to begin by thanking the member for Mississauga—Lakeshore for introducing Bill C-309, which would designate a gender equality week in Canada.
The bill would recognize aspects of Canadian society where women have not yet achieved equality, promote awareness of these inequalities, and educate Canadians on opportunities to advance these issues. Anything we can do as a society to increase opportunities for women and girls and bring gender parity closer to reality makes sense.
Why is more action needed to advance equality? Consider some of the challenges our country still faces. Women continue to advance in many sectors of the economy, yet a woman working full-time makes 73.5¢ for every dollar a man makes. A record number of 88 women were elected to Parliament in 2015. This represents an increase of only 1% from the last election in 2011, with women now holding 26% of the seats here, but we have much more work to do to achieve gender parity. The more recent statistics from the Canadian Board Diversity Council 2015 report card indicates that women hold 19.5% of board seats at Fortune 500 companies.
These persistent inequalities underscore how difficult it is to make change happen. Therefore, as we prepare to mark next year the 150 years since our nation's founding, we need to stay focused on the fact that the fight for equality is far from over. Designating a gender equality week would serve to remind everyone of this very, very important fact.
Our support for Bill C-309 also underscores the government's commitment to promoting gender equality and building an inclusive and prosperous society. I am proud to say that the Prime Minister is committed to leading by example on this priority. He appointed the first gender-balanced cabinet in the history of Canada and the first-ever minister fully dedicated to gender equality, the Minister of Status of Women.
The Prime Minister's commitment has fuelled the dialogue on equality and feminism across the country and around the world. We are adopting strong measures to promote equality. Gender-based violence continues to be a barrier to women and girls achieving their full potential, and some groups of Canadian women are more at risk.
In order to come up with solutions to the unacceptable level of violence, we launched a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. The Minister of Status of Women also brought together key stakeholders nationwide to develop a federal strategy addressing gender-based violence.
During the consultations held in Canada last summer, we gathered the views of gender diverse Canadians. Many told personal stories of the violence and discrimination they endure.
Our government is committed to recognizing the rights of gender diverse Canadians and eliminating the barriers that can leave them vulnerable to violence and economic marginalization. We are committed to advancing explicit protections related to gender identity and gender expression within the Canadian Human Rights Act. Gender equality week would also serve to highlight the issues faced by transgender and gender non-conforming Canadians.
Our government also recognizes that increasing women's participation in leadership and decision-making roles is critical to building a healthy and inclusive society. For example, we have put in place a new merit-based, open, and transparent approach to selecting high-quality candidates for some 4,000 governor in council and ministerial appointments to commissions, boards, crown corporations, agencies, and tribunals across the country.
Last October, the Minister of Status of Women announced funding of over $8 million for approximately 45 community organizations to carry out a dozen projects. These projects will foster greater inclusion and increase women's participation and leadership in the democratic and public life of the country.
Last September, our government introduced Bill C-25 to update in various ways the federal framework legislation on corporate governance. The main objective is to better target the representation of women on corporate boards and in senior management by using the comply or explain approach.
In November, as part of the government's plan to advance the middle class, the Minister of Finance stated that budget 2017 and all subsequent budgets will be subject to more rigorous analysis by carrying out and publishing a gender-based analysis of the impact of budget measures. That is a positive step that will result in inclusive budgets for Canada.
To help diminish the gender wage gap, the government is currently developing a framework on early learning and child care, promoting a Canadian poverty reduction strategy, launching the new Canada child benefit, and enhancing the use of gender-based analysis to ensure that any decisions concerning policy, programs, and legislation will advance gender equality.
Here are some further actions we have taken that will support many women in our country.
Budget 2016 announced changes to old age security and an increase in the guaranteed income supplement, a monthly non-taxable benefit for pension recipients who have a low income. We know that low-income seniors are most likely to be women living alone. We have also introduced legislation to enhance the Canada pension plan, which aims to reduce the share of families at risk of not having enough for retirement. It also includes enhancements to disability and survivor benefits. We believe these two actions in particular will improve the situation of Canadian families, help women, and get us closer to gender equality.
We are taking these bold actions for one simple reason: Canadians believe in equality, a fact that I believe is borne out by the debate we are having today on Bill C-309.
In October we celebrated Women's History Month, which includes important commemorative dates such as International Day of the Girl and Persons Day. To ensure that gender equality week is recognized and celebrated, a discussion about when such a week should occur would be beneficial. However, the reality is that we cannot rest as a society until all women and girls have equal opportunities to succeed and reach their full potential.
That is why I am pleased to support the bill before the House today, which would establish gender equality week in Canada.
That is why we are supporting this bill.
Ms. Christine Moore (Abitibi—Témiscamingue, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, gender equality is an extremely important issue for me. It should be one of our primary concerns, and we should take practical measures to do more in this area. I will therefore support this bill because it deals with an issue that is dear to me.
Then again, this bill, like other similar bills that talk about awareness, will not result in any real action. It is all well and good to dedicate days, weeks, or months to certain causes, but the fact remains that on every International Women's Day there are women who are sexually assaulted or beaten and on every International Day of the Girl there are girls somewhere in the world who are forced to marry men who are three or four times their age.
Talking about these issues is important, but so is taking action. Action is what allows us to forge ahead. Unfortunately, the government has missed opportunities to take meaningful action. My colleague from British Columbia introduced a bill to increase the number of female MPs by imposing financial penalties on parties that did not run enough female candidates. That would have been a practical way to get more women in Parliament.
However, the government chose not to support that bill and, worse still, did not even let it go to committee. It voted against a bill on an important issue that would have helped us achieve gender equality, which is shameful enough, but it did not even give the bill a chance to go to committee, where experts could have spoken to its value and suggested improvements that would have made it acceptable to everyone. By doing that, the government sent the message that it was not even worth the trouble of trying to come up with something that works for everyone. That is the saddest part.
For a member of the governing party to remain silent rather than tell his colleagues that the bill is worth looking at in committee is deplorable. Maybe he just does not have enough clout in his caucus. Either way, it is a little sad.
The Prime Minister talked about his balanced cabinet. However, among the six senior ministers, which include foreign affairs, national defence, finance, treasury board, and justice, although I am missing one, there is only one woman, the Minister of Justice. He could have appointed three women and three men to lead those key departments, but he did not ensure that balance from the beginning.
In addition, in a cabinet made up of 30 ministers, the five minister of state positions, which involve tasks of a lesser magnitude and no budget to manage, are all filled by women. Seats could have been a little more evenly distributed, but they were not. There is still work to be done.
Gender equality is not only about having the same number of men and women in one place. If there are 30 employees at a company, and there are 15 women and 15 men, that does not automatically mean equality. If the 15 men are executives and the 15 women sweep the floor, that is not equality. We have to go beyond the numbers. When it comes to gender, we must always choose measures that increase equality.
Year after year, women continue to be the ones to perform the majority of household chores. Now they often work, too, but still take care of the house and the children and manage everyone's schedules. They basically have two full-time jobs. This causes a great deal of stress, and yet they get very little support.
For example, we still do not have an accessible child care program for women. Sometimes friends help us find child care at a reasonable cost that meets our needs. Other times, however, that is not the case at all. Just today on the bus, I was talking about the daycare that I found for my daughter. I was saying that I was fortunate because, in my situation, I cannot use public child care and I had managed to find a private facility that charges $25 a day. A woman on the bus approached me and asked where this day care was located because she pays twice as much for her child. What this actually means is that women sometimes earn less than minimum wage when we calculate all the expenses they must incur, especially for their children, such as child care. Thus, there really is a lot to do.
Let us talk about access to contraception. Canada does not have universal pharmacare. In Quebec, we are fortunate to have a drug plan that covers those without private insurance. Unfortunately, people are sometimes forced to take the private insurance offered by their employer, which is very expensive, even more so than government insurance. I will not go into the details. As I was saying, in Quebec, most people have the benefit of some type of prescription drug coverage, or at least they have that option. That is not the case in other provinces.
When it comes to contraception, each woman should choose what is most appropriate for her. Quite often, contraception is the sole responsibility of the woman. We are supposed to have an egalitarian society; however, in terms of the couple, this is more often than not the responsibility of the woman. The exception is Quebec, where vasectomies are most popular. Elsewhere, women bear the responsibility for contraception.
Some devices might be clinically more appropriate for certain women, but they simply cannot afford them. A hormonal IUD costs roughly $300. Many women do not have an extra $300. The IUD lasts five years, but there is still no payment plan available for making monthly payments for an IUD. For many women who cannot afford anything else, the only option ends up being contraception that is contraindicated for them.
A lot of work remains to be done when it comes to violence. Tangible measures can be taken, including in the justice system, to make the process easier for victims, to give them the courage to report, all in the hopes of creating a more egalitarian society. We keep taking baby steps when it comes to the status of women. We are treading water.
Unfortunately, although I intend to support my colleague's bill, gender equality week is not a tangible measure that is going to fix these problems. Maybe we will talk about them, but I think we have already done that. In the absence of other, complementary measures, this bill will not really get us anywhere.