Gender Equality Week Act in Parliament
“It is 2017”
February 8, 2017, 11:03 am ASTLast Updated: February 9, 2017, 10:24 pm
An act to establish Gender Equality Week is now in committee. If passed, the first week in October would become “Gender Equality Week.”
The act’s intention to increase awareness of contributions that Canadian women have made in terms of the development, character and identity of Canada. The intention is also for Canadians to share responsibility in addressing the social and economic challenges faced by women.
The bill was put forth by Liberal MP Sven Spengemann from Ontario.
“There was a clear appetite for something that could start a national conversation, ideally,” says Spengemann’s assistant, Adrian Zita-Bennett.
Zita-Bennett says Spengemann was inspired by the HeforShe campaign, as well as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s call on men to step to the side of women and Canadians of minority gender identity and expression, to achieve gender equality.
“He said, ‘it is 2017, and as you know it’s Canadians 150th anniversary, but significant challenges remain, as you can obviously see in the preamble. That’s why all Canadians, especially men, need to do their part to complete the work,’” says Zita-Bennett.
The preamble also brings attention to the problems Canadian women face including affordable housing, social support programs, child care services, gaps in Canada’s health care system, and the disproportionately affected women.
The writing reads, “whereas poverty and inequality disproportionately affect Canadian women, particularly elderly, disabled, transgender and visible minority women, leaving them isolated and vulnerable.”
There is another section focusing exclusively on Indigenous women.
Zita-Bennett says Indigenous women and transgender people of all genders face more exacerbated gender based disparities.
“Certainly, in legislation texts, it’s important to say things explicitly so people have a full understanding of the nature of the problem, or nature of a concern,” says Zita-Bennett.
Rebecca Stuckey is an outreach education coordinator at South House Sexual Health and Gender Resource Centre. She thinks Gender Equality Week is an “amazing first step,” but it is “just a start.”
“Establishing this week doesn’t give folks from marginalized genders rights and privileges in our society,” says Stuckey. “I think establishing laws that give folks from marginalized genders written rights around these things is really important. Especially around workforce and education, general society, and how we live.”
Two hundred eighty-seven members voted to pass the legislation. Only one voted against it.
“The near universal support is a good sign,” says Rebecca Faria, a representative of Hollaback Halifax. Hollaback is an international feminist group that fights street harassment.
The only opposing vote was from MP Brad Trost of Saskatoon – University, who is a candidate in the race for leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada.
“The whole tone of it is, ‘Canada is an unfair society to women’, and I fundamentally don’t think that’s correct,” says Trost in a video posted to Twitter.
Trost also took time in the video to deny that gender identities exist other than male and female, due to an inclusion in the bill for “individuals of minority gender identity and expression.”
By “minority gender identities,” it is referring to non-binary folks. Non-binary is when someone is neither male nor female, or a mixture of the two.
Stuckey believes Trost is misinformed.
“This person is clearly… not educated on the issue,” says Stuckey. “Certainly something should be sparking within him if he’s the only person voting against this, even within his own party.”
This reporter put out a request on her public figure page, looking for Canadians who exist and are non-binary. These were the replies:
@elmsjustice saw your piece on fb am non-binary identifying would really like an X gender option and assuredly quite real
— Mason🖱 #NoDAPL (@gaymasonjar) February 7, 2017
@elmsjustice I was tagged in your fb post today. I am non binary. I fight on the daily to keep my head above the water. We are real we exist
— Cian Pedersen (@CianSpeaks) February 7, 2017
@elmsjustice so if I’m NB and “don’t exist” can I get free tuition and not pay taxes? Just wondering 👀
— Sari (@PseudoNoiz) February 6, 2017
Faria believes there’s a big push right now for awareness that gender isn’t binary.
“That’s something we can do, with more education and awareness on,” she says, adding that movements, like Gender Equality Week, have had mixed results in the past.
“I think this sort of thing, having a day, a week or a month, highlighted for gender awareness can be a very useful tool, as long as we can find a way to connect that awareness to action,” says Faria. “Part of that responsibility lies with the people and groups who supported creating a Gender Equality Week, making sure that we turn this into call to action rather than a ‘look how far we’ve come,’ when really we have so far to go.”
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