“Equality Matters”: Canada Celebrates International Women’s Day 2017

(Disponible en français : « L’égalité compte » : Le Canada célèbre la Journée internationale des femmes de 2017)

This year, Canada’s theme for the annual celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8 is “Equality Matters.” The United Nations (UN) is focusing on “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030.”

International Women’s Day gives Canadians and their parliamentarians an opportunity to recognize the achievements that women have made and to reflect on challenges in attaining gender equality.

This HillNote examines selected aspects of women’s employment and earnings, both domestically and globally. It also identifies some Canadian federal and parliamentary initiatives relating to gender and gender equality. Finally, it highlights Canada’s participation in the forthcoming annual session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Women, employment and earnings: Canadian and global perspectives

Whether considering employment rates, labour force participation rates or median employment income, gender inequalities persist in Canada’s labour market.

While they have risen in recent decades, employment and labour force participation rates among Canadian women remain lower than those for men (Figure 1). In 2016, employment and labour force participation rates for women were 57.5% and 61.3%, respectively, while those for men were 64.9% and 70.3%, respectively.

Figure 1 – Employment Rate and Labour Force Participation Rate, Canada, by Gender, 1990–2016

Note: The employment rate and the labour force participation rate are the percentage of a group’s population aged 15 and older who are employed and who are labour force participants, respectively. Source: Figure prepared by the author using data obtained from: Statistics Canada, “Table 282-0004 Labour Force Survey Estimates (LFS), by Educational attainment, Sex and Age Group,” CANSIM (database), accessed 3 February 2017 and “Table 282-0001 Labour Force Survey Estimates (LFS), by sex and detailed age group,” CANSIM (database), accessed 17 February 2017.

Similarly, the median employment income of Canadian women has increased in recent decades, but remains lower than that for men (Figure 2). In 2014, median employment income was $27,100 for women and $39,000 for men.

Figure 2 – Median Employment Income, Canada, by Gender, 1976–2014

Note: The figure excludes those with an income of $0.00.
Source: Figure prepared by the author using data obtained from: Statistics Canada, “Table 206-0052 Income of Individuals by Age Group, Sex and Income Source, Canada, Provinces and Select Census Metropolitan Areas,” CANSIM (database), accessed 16 February 2017.

From a global perspective, men typically participate in the labour force at a much higher rate than women (Figure 3). A 2016 report by the International Labour Organization indicates that, between 1995 and 2015, the labour force participation rate for women fell from 52.4% to 49.6%, while that for men declined from 79.9% to 76.1%.

Figure 3 – Global Labour Force Participation Rate, by Gender, 2000–2013

Notes: The labour force participation rate is the percentage of a group’s population aged 15 and older who are in the labour force. The year 2013 is the most recent for which data are available.
Source: Figure prepared by the author using data obtained from: United Nations, “The World’s Women 2015: Trends and Statistics,” UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, accessed 3 February 2017.

Moreover, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women – or UN Women – has suggested that women globally are typically compensated at the rate that is between 60% and 75% of the earnings of men performing the same work.

In addition, UN Women has reported that women globally are more likely to have vulnerable or precarious employment, and to have disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care and unpaid domestic work.

As well, UN Women has indicated that women experience gender inequalities in paid employment. These inequalities include a lack of legislation that guarantees equal pay for equal work, and gender stereotypes about women in leadership and management positions.

Supporting Canadian women’s economic empowerment: Selected federal governmental initiatives

An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report views women’s economic empowerment as integral to achieving gender equality, as well as to fostering faster, stronger and more sustainable economic growth.

Within Canada, Status of Women Canada is the federal entity focused on women’s economic empowerment. In its 2016–17 Report on Plans and Priorities, the department indicates that it is working to increase women’s representation in leadership roles. One of its priorities is to support initiatives designed to improve women’s representation on corporate boards in Canada.

The federal government also supports women entrepreneurs. For example, in November 2016, the Minister of Small Business and Tourism announced that the Business Development Bank of Canada will invest $50 million to support women entrepreneurs in the technology sector.

As well, Canadian business women are likely to benefit from the 13 February 2017 announcement, by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Donald Trump, of the Canada–United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders.

Furthermore, to increase women’s employment in sectors where they are currently underrepresented, the federal government has launched a campaign to encourage young women to choose STEM-oriented careers: those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Finally, recognizing that data should inform decisions, Statistics Canada provides information about Canadian women through various research and reports, one example of which is Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report.

Studies and recommendations about women’s economic prosperity: Some federal parliamentary initiatives

In addition to initiatives by the federal government, some parliamentary committees undertake gender-related studies and/or make gender-related recommendations.

For example, the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women recently launched a study on the economic security of women in Canada. It will explore – through a gender lens – such topics as poverty rates, employment compensation, federal income security programs, unpaid domestic work, part-time and precarious employment, and ways to improve the overall participation of women in economic leadership positions.

Furthermore, Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Canada Business Corporations Act, the Canada Cooperatives Act, the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act and the Competition Act, is being studied by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. It would require certain corporations to provide annual information on diversity in director and senior management positions.

Other parliamentary committees are also focusing on women’s economic participation and security. For example, in 2016, the House of Commons Special Committee on Pay Equity conducted a study and released a report on pay equity in Canada.

As well, in February 2017, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities launched a study on poverty reduction strategies, with a focus on the impact of gender on poverty in Canada.

Finally, in its December 2016 pre-budget consultation report, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance made a recommendation about gender as a consideration in federal policy making.

Addressing gender economic inequality globally: Canada’s international contributions

Canada is also involved in international efforts to enhance gender equality.

For example, since 1947, Canada has participated in the annual sessions of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the principal global intergovernmental body dedicated exclusively to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. On 7 April 2016, for the first time in almost a decade, Canada was elected to the Commission, and will serve for the period from 2017 to 2021.

Since its inception, the Commission has contributed to global efforts to advance women’s economic equality and empowerment. For example, it drafted the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, an international bill of rights for women and a plan of action for countries to guarantee these rights.

From 13–24 March 2017, just days after International Women’s Day, a federal parliamentary delegation will attend the 61st Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. The priority theme will be “women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work,” with an additional focus on the empowerment of Indigenous women.

As an elected member of the Commission, Canada is in a strong position to contribute to global efforts to advance gender equality.

Related Resources

Munn-Rivard, Laura, Women’s Representation on Corporate Boards in Canada, Library of Parliament Parliamentary Information and Research Services, March 2015.

UN Women, Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming economies, realizing rights, 2015.

UN Women, Tackling the Gender Pay Gap: From individual choices to institutional change, Policy Brief No. 6, 2016.

Author: Clare Annett, Library of Parliament

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