On the Hill – Our Own Backyard

?Canada is a world leader in the promotion and protection of women’s rights and gender equality.? So claims the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada website.

It’s no surprise, then, that Canadian officials expressed outrage at the Afghan government’s recent erosion of women’s rights, with a new law ?that would make Afghan women financially and sexually subservient to their husbands.?

Yet as the battle waged by Canada’s military in Afghanistan begins to be spun more and more as a struggle for human rights?and women’s rights in particular?It’s interesting to note that, when it comes to our own backyard, Canada has a lot of work to do.

We’ve come a long way since 1909, when it was still legal in this country to forcibly abduct any woman over the age of 16 (except an heiress). But it took until 1971 before female civic employees in Manitoba were allowed to keep their jobs if they married, and for women in Quebec to have the right to serve on a jury. And it wasn’t until 1983 that the Attorney General ordered Ontario police to lay charges in domestic violence cases. Until then, men often faced no consequences for putting their fists to their female partners.

If those sound like quaint examples of discrimination from our (disturbingly recent) past, you may be in for a surprise.

Besides the right to free movement and personal safety, one of the most basic human dignities is the right to earn a living, to feed your family and put a roof over your head. In Canada, women are still fighting that battle every day?and facing government resistance to do it.

One example is as recent as October 24, 2004. In 1988, when the pay of women health care workers was found to be discriminatory, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador agreed ?to remedy a long history of sex-based wage discrimination.? But before the payouts began, the NL government predicted a budget deficit and reneged on paying the lost wages. The result? The Supreme Court of Canada found that NL was discriminating against women twice over?but allowed it to so the province could balance its budget.

Today, women still make 72 cents on every dollar a man earns, but It’s not for a lack of skills or education. Nearly every university in Canada is now predominantly female, with a national average of almost three women to every two men on campus. Fifty-nine per cent of Canadian undergrads are women, with female grads leading the way in professional programs like med school, law school, and chartered accounting.

And with tough economic times, Ontario has seen an alarming display of blatant workplace discrimination, 50 years after the Human Rights Code was enacted to prevent it. As the Toronto Star reports, some employers aren’t shy about letting female employees know exactly why they’re being fired or laid off: because they’re pregnant.

It’s important that our leaders condemn the abuses against women in Afghanistan and elsewhere; the fight for human rights is one that cannot be abandoned in any corner of the world. As for Canada being ?a world leader in the promotion and protection of women’s rights and gender equality??

We’ve come a long way, baby?but we’ve still got one hell of a long way to go right here at home.