I was sitting in class once and the topic of gender inequality came up. Students were asked to discuss whether equality between genders could ever be achieved. Immediately, people began giving examples of differences between men and women in the parts of Africa and South Asia. I raised my hand and kindly pointed out that there were plenty of instances of gender inequality much closer to home and was met with silent stares.
It baffles me how often I get that kind of silent stare, like I’m making a big point out of something that’s not very important. How often I may be able to get someone to admit that men and women are treated differently but not that those differences are significant. Maybe inequalities are larger in other places but that doesn’t mean make it acceptable for Canada to avoid changing anything.
Here are some facts that may help others who find themselves in a similar position as me. The differences between genders do exist and they do have significant impacts.
1. There is a considerable pay gap between men and women
Women and men are not paid the same wages for doing similar work. This does not go for every job and situation ever, but, in general, men make more than women.
According to this report, in Gatineau, Quebec, women earn on average 87 cents for every dollar that men earn — and that’s the smallest pay gap in Canada. In other large cities in Canada, such as Waterloo, the numbers about 76 cents for every dollar a male earns. Start multiplying that number by hourly or even yearly wages and suddenly the disparity seems quite clear.
2. There are gender roles within the home
Yes, it is 2015. Yes, one could point out that more and more women are entering the workforce and it is increasingly acceptable to be a “stay-at-home dad.” All of this is true. However, as this article discusses, women still spend considerably more time than men overall doing household related work and childcare in addition to their money-earning jobs.
This article points out that “If more women play the breadwinner role and more men ask for family-friendly policies, it could become hard for employers to treat them differently on the basis of gender roles.” Here’s an interesting study that found that men who took more of a role in caring for their children were significantly more likely to be mistreated at work. Even more shocking was that women who did not have any children and worked in a male-dominated workplace experienced “nearly seven times the amount of mistreatment than even the most poorly treated men.”
3. Violence affects women more often than men
“1 in every 4 women in North America will experience sexual assault in her lifetime” according to assault statistics in Canada. Sexual violence affects women more than men and is an issue that continues to be grossly under reported.
It is important to note that not all women are at the same risk for violence because of the many varying factors that make up one’s identity. In Canada, there is ongoing concern about the overrepresentation of Aboriginal women in missing persons and homicides cases as identified in this RCMP report. Approximately 4.3% of the Canadian population identifies as Aboriginal, yet, Aboriginal women represent 11.3% of all cases of missing persons and 16% of all cases of homicide in Canada.
Very recently, the United Nations released a 2015 report on Canada and specifically pointed out their concerns about the continued high rates of violence in Canada. They call for improved legislation and investigations as well as increased protective measures and support services. The UN blatantly calls for Canada to conduct a National inquiry to understand the root causes of violence affecting indigenous women and girls.
4. Women hold fewer positions in government
The UN defines women’s political participation as “fundamental …for gender equality and genuine democracy.” Yet, in Canada’s current federal system, men continue to make up the majority of elected officials. Government statistics show that Women do hold a record high of elected positions, but this is still hovering at just 25%. Still, greater gender parity is important because women in positions of governance may advocate for different things and may better represent issues that more specifically affect women.
This point is not limited to governance but is also applicable to positions of power within companies and firms as well. Sheryl Sandbery, Facebook COO, has an excellent TED Talk about some of the barriers to working women which relate back to gender roles in the home and the different ways that men and women view their accomplishments.
5. Gender segregation within post-secondary programs and professions
Certain faculties at universities and certain trades are male dominated. Here is an intriguing study on the gender differences in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and how women were always less likely to pick those fields of study regardless of math abilities. It’s not that women aren’t allowed to be part of those programs of study. However, the disproportionate numbers of men to women create a male-dominated space and attitude that is harder for women to find a place in.
Working in a male-dominated industry creates barriers for women.This article points out that When management teams are mostly men, it sets a certain tone and can allow masculine stereotypes to affect decisions regarding promotions and opportunities. There are also different considerations women have to take regarding their appearance and challenging the opinions of men who are used to having power in a situation. Read one woman’s experience of working in management and her reflections on “The Art of Being a Woman.”
6. Media sources tend to favour men over women
The 2010 Global Media Monitoring Project found that within news coverage, only 24% of news subjects were women. The women who were shown were twice as likely to be portrayed as victims. In films, women protagonists are rare, existing in about 11% of movies. For more stats of gender injustice in media, check out WAM here: “Women have less opportunity to contribute to conversations, because they are less likely to own media, be asked for their opinion regardless of their qualifications, be published or be given the chance to tell their story.”
Along the same lines, I frequently find myself questioning the lyrics of some mainstream pop music and the messages that it sends about women in general. This is a popular song heard both on the radio and in clubs but I can’t be the only person who feels like dirty, degrading, and often violence language towards women is becoming more and more commonplace.
7. There is a large emphasis on being beautiful for women
Sexualized images of women’s bodies are very prominent in today’s media and advertising as discussed in this article. From a young age, girls are socialized to value beauty as a way to getting attention and achieving success in this society. There is pressure to look a certain way and buy certain products to maintain that look. Heck, according to this study, it’s reasonable to suspect that women are being charged more than men for beauty care products (razors, deodorant, etc.) in order to maintain that look.
The pressure comes from everyday imagery, such as mall advertisements, and media portrayals in movies and TV shows. The sad thing is that that imagery reaffirms what research has found to be true a lot of the time – “attractive people” are often found to be more successful at getting hired and promoted according to this article. This just confirms the values that we as a society have placed on a person’s looks.
So in summary…
Equality between genders in Canada is a fictitious story that people and politicians like to tell. Some facts that highlight the actual disparity are straightforward and well researched. Some may be harder to understand at first but it is only once people recognize the kind of language and imagery that has become accepted in society that we can come together to challenge it.
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Note: This list does not intend to limit the word “gender” to refer only to males and females. The author wishes to recognize the wide range of genders and identities that exist
Note: Intersectionality. Every individual holds a unique place within society that is built upon a multitude of factors. Not all women face the same challenges; their situation is dependent on many others factors including ethnical background, level of income, sexual orientation, familial status, and many others. The above list points out the broader inequalities between genders but does not aim to hide the deeper obstacles that some face.
By Katie Fajber
*All views expressed in this blog post belong to the author and don’t necessarily reflect the views of CYH