Nearly 1000 people march down Yonge Street, Saturday March 9, rallying for equality and the end to violence against women in Canada. Nearly 1000 people march down Yonge Street, Saturday March 9, rallying for equality and the end to violence against women in Canada. Alex Lisman
So you missed the march, rally and various programming that took place throughout the city to celebrate International Women's Day. Now what?

As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day, A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray . . .

On Saturday, March 9, around 1000 people made their way from Bloor Street to Gould Street, rallying for gender equality and bearing signs with slogans such as “down with patriarchy.” While coverage of the event mostly translated into transit delay info and was overshadowed by the Thomson-Ford saga, which continues to grow into a full-fledged Gropegate, the message of Saturday’s march rings clear: we’ve come far, but not far enough.

Friday, March 8, marked the 102nd year anniversary for International Women’s Day. Stemming from initiatives by labour movements in the States and Europe, the annual commemoration started in the early 20th century as a way to honour women protesting against poor working conditions, and also served to highlight national campaigns for universal suffrage. During International Women’s Year in 1975, the United Nations marked March 8 as a day to celebrate the achievements of women in the political and economic spheres, as well as to urge against gender-based discrimination and violence.

For a brief history and timeline of International Women’s Day, visit UN Women Watch.

While the world has seen considerable progress in the realm of gender equality over the past century, the rates at which gender disparity is closing in political, economic and social spheres are not always linear. If the messages from Saturday’s march were any indicator, Canada is no exception when it comes to the inequality and violence facing women.

Women have made undeniable progress in the workforce, but the rate of progress seems to have slowed. According to Statistics Canada, the number of women in the workforce today has doubled since 1976 and over 58 per cent of women in Canada are employed. However, the Ontario Pay Equity Commission reports that working women in Ontario earn only 84 per cent of wages earned by their male counterparts. The Commission also claims that 10 to 15 per cent of the wage gap is due to discriminatory practices.

For tables and figures visit the Ontario Pay Equity Commission website.

The glass ceiling is perhaps most transparent when looking at Canadian companies’ boards of directors. According to a report published by TD Economics earlier this month, women account for only 11 per cent of Canadian corporate boards of directors. Compared to women’s representation on corporate boards in the rest of the world, Canada fell from number six in 2009 to number nine in 2011.

Additionally, economist Sheila Block suggests that the 2012 Provincial Budget may disproportionately affect women. Public spending cuts may force the 60 per cent of women who make up public sector employees into private sector jobs, wherein they make on average 4.5 per cent less.

The gender gap widens when race factors in. A report published in February by McMaster University revealed that on average non-White women make just over $45 000 compared to their White male counterparts who make $80 000 in Canada.

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Discrimination based on race and gender in Canada is perhaps most salient for Aboriginal women. According to the Department of Justice Canada, in 2009 women accounted for 83 per cent of total victims of spousal abuse. Rates of violence are even higher for Aboriginal women. According to a 2004 report by Statistics Canada, Aboriginal women are three times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to experience spousal abuse.

Last month, Human Rights Watch compiled claims of abuse and neglect from Aboriginal women against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in British Columbia. Entitled Those That Take Us Away , the 89-page report documents various forms of discrimination, aggressive use of police force, and even sexual assault by RCMP members.

Following the publication of this report — in a rare absence of partisanship — Parliament voted unanimously to launch a committee on missing and murdered Aboriginal women. According to its mandate, the committee will “conduct hearings on the critical matter of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada and . . . propose solutions to address the root causes of violence against Indigenous women across the country.” MP Carolyn Bennett, who submitted the motion on February 14, acknowledged that the committee is not in lieu of a national inquiry that the Liberal Party and many organizations like Amnesty International have advocated for in the past. However, Bennett acknowledged it as a feasible starting point to solving a systemic problem.

While issues of discrimination, disparity and violence facing women in Canada are often part of systemic patterns and cannot be isolated, many groups and individuals are working towards better conditions and equality. In addition to staying informed, here are a few ways to get involved in our city.

- Sign a petition: The Toronto Women’s City Alliance aims to establish the Toronto Women’s Equality Office to apply a gender-based analysis to the city’s policies. To learn more about their campaign and petition visit them on Facebook.

- Volunteer: the YWCA offers a housing options, employment and training programs, and community support programs to women in Toronto.

- Attend an art show: OCAD University hosts Period Piece: the Gynolandscape until April Saturday, April 6 at 52 McCaul Street. Period Piece features work from international female artists and aims to question the current ideology of femininity by recasting women in positive or dominant roles.

- Wear red: The Ontario Equal Pay Coalition is calling on Premier Kathleen Wynne to declare April 9 Equal Pay Day and asks Ontarians to wear red “to mark how far women are in the red when it comes to their pay.”

- Become an expat:The Globe and Mail compiled a list of the best places to live for women in the world. Canada ranked 21st out of 135 countries, falling three spots from last year. On the bright side, we hear Iceland is gorgeous.

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No more the drudge and idler -- ten that toil where one reposes, But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!

Additional Info

  • Subtitle: A a very brief overview of issues raised in this year’s IWD march and what to do about them now
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