Proceeding of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue No. 30 - Evidence - Meeting of May 30, 2018
OTTAWA, Wednesday, May 30, 2018
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 11:33 a.m. to study Bill C-309, An Act to establish Gender Equality Week (Topic: Asian Heritage Month).
Senator Jane Cordy (Deputy Chair) in the chair.
The Deputy Chair: Good morning and welcome. I’d like all the senators to introduce themselves.
Senator Boyer: Yvonne Boyer, Ontario.
Senator Hartling: Nancy Hartling, New Brunswick.
Senator Pate: Kim Pate, Ontario.
The Deputy Chair: I’m Jane Cordy, a senator from Nova Scotia, and I’m deputy chair sitting in the chair for today’s meeting. Today we begin our study on Bill C-309, An Act to establish Gender Equality Week.
For our first panel we are pleased to welcome Sven Spengemann, Member of Parliament, sponsor of the bill in the House of Commons.
And from Status of Women Canada, Nanci-Jean Waugh, Director General, Communications and Public Affairs Directorate.
Mr. Spengemann, we’ll start with you.
Sven Spengemann, Member of Parliament for Mississauga—Lakeshore, sponsor of the bill: Distinguished members of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights, I would like to thank for you for this opportunity to speak on my private member’s bill, Bill C-309, An Act to establish Gender Equality Week.
It is a great honour for me to appear before you today because in my view, this legislation has the potential for a strong and profoundly positive impact on Canadian society.
Before elaborating briefly, I would like to take a moment to thank a few people for their dedicated work in bringing the bill to where it is today. First of all, I would like to thank Senator Dennis Dawson and his team for agreeing to act as the Senate sponsor of my bill and for steering it ably thus far; Senator Hartling for speaking to the bill; my team here in Ottawa and in my constituency of Mississauga—Lakeshore; Adrian Zita-Bennett, my executive and legislative assistant, who did much of the heavy lifting on the consultations and the development of the preambular paragraphs of the bill; Wendy Gordon, the director of Legislation Services in the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel. Sarah Hleyhel is an intern on Parliament Hill and will join us in our constituency, and she is a strong advocate for social justice and a champion of equality.
I would also like to thank my amazing team in the constituency office, Dulce Santos, Hanan Harb, Leslie Ellis and Kassandra Fiore. They engaged our community in Mississauga—Lakeshore and supported us here in Ottawa each step of the way. Thanks also go to an organization called Strength in Stories, a grassroots organization championing the status of women that helped to inspire this bill, and particularly its co-founder, Rachelle Bergen.
In addition, there were local and national stakeholders such as non-profit organizations, women’s shelters, and all levels of government who provided feedback that was critical in developing the preambular paragraphs of the bill.
And last but certainly not least I would like to thank you, Madam Chair and your Senate colleagues, for your strong support to bring the bill to this committee today. Making frank and compelling mention of the full scope of gender-based inequalities that persist in Canada is an essential step to ensure that gender equality week will be effective in delivering national engagement and prospective solutions.
The reason for this simple. To solve any problem, we first require full recognition of the scope and existence of that problem. We need to be able to call problems by their names and be frank and open when tackling the challenges we continue to face. We must not forget that gender-based disparities affect not just the development of Canada but growth and prosperity around the world.
I’m sure it would come as no surprise for members of this committee when stakeholders tell us that we still have a lot of work to do to establish a more gender equal society.
I would like to share some evidence that reinforces this sentiment. Through its Global Gender Gap Index, the World Economic Forum, or WEF, has, since 2006, published annual reports to capture the full scope of gender-based disparities and efforts to address them, particularly in the areas of health, educational attainment, economic opportunity, participation and political empowerment.
According to the WEF’s 2017 report released last November, Canada is ranked sixteenth out of 144 participating countries, nestled in between the United Kingdom and Bolivia, and is ranked highest in North America.
The elimination of gender gaps has strong and lasting economic benefits. It is a key point that I put to you for discussion subsequently.
More and more, international organizations and governments around the world are raising awareness of this untapped potential. As a 2013 International Monetary Fund report on women’s participation in the global labour market put it, “The challenges of growth, job creation and inclusion are closely intertwined.”
Madam Deputy Chair and committee members, as Canadians, we must also recognize that the wage gap between men and women puts our economy and the global economy at a disadvantage.
Around the world, there is more recognition of the critical economic challenge posed by gender inequality.
According to a 2005 Royal Bank report, the wage gap has caused up to $126 billion in lost income potential for Canadian women each year. A report released last October by the investment firm USB Management said that global economic output would increase by £10 trillion if the gender gap between working women and men were closed.
Similarly, a report released in September 2015 by the McKinsey Global Institute said that advancing women’s equality would add £12 trillion to the global GDP by 2025.
Canadians of minority gender identity and expression are often faced with these challenges in an even more profound manner. The acknowledgment of these outcomes goes far beyond partisan affiliation. All of us bear some responsibility in a society that categorically and systematically treats and values gender differently.
In short, if we truly seek to address these challenges, I think a pivotal first step is to recognize them frankly and understand them fully.
During second reading in the Senate it was inspiring to see senators, in a very direct and frank manner, confronting persisting challenges. In my view, it is vital the House of Commons and the Senate work together to address gender inequalities and lead our communities to initiate positive change.
Second, the federal government cannot solve these problems by itself. Gender equality requires awareness and engagement on the part of all Canadians, and that’s really where this bill is seeking to take the conversation. This is a cause to which everyone must begin to contribute in some meaningful way every day. The mere passage of legislation without public recognition of or engagement with the challenges we face will not be sufficient.
So what exactly, you might ask, could an annual gender equality week look like? Each year across the 338 federal ridings in our country, gender equality week can inspire Canadians — girls, boys men, women and those of minority gender identity and expression — to take part in a dialogue to establish a more inclusive society. The bill encourages federal, provincial, municipal and Indigenous governments; not-for-profits; academia; Indigenous communities and organizations; the private sector; sports organization; first responders and our Armed Forces; the media and civil society at large to lead an ongoing national conversation, and during gender equality week, to raise collective awareness of these challenges and to identify constructive solutions.
Together we can find those solutions. As parliamentarians, we can use this designated week to deepen relationships and to collaborate with community leaders and advocacy groups. This work could take many forms: community town halls and debates, research proposals, television and social media reports, fundraising initiatives, marches, art and music and other forms of advocacy.
Through its emphasis on fostering local, community-based dialogue, gender equality week can also serve to strengthen current federal initiatives in communities across our country. In my riding of Mississauga—Lakeshore, young people and seniors participated in the development of this bill. Members of our youth council have specifically expressed concern at the difficulties faced by young women to enter and excel in the workforce. Leaders in our community of seniors could play a big part in an annual gender equality week. They have seen first-hand how attitudes and policies have or have not changed with respect to gender equality, and their input would be critical to eliminating gender-based disparities, including poverty, for the next generation and beyond.
In a bigger sense, this is about the kind of Canada we want to build. What kind of Canada do we want our children and their children to grow up in and to be leaders of?
We have achieved so much since Confederation, and yet, on the issue of gender equality and equity, there is still so much to be done. Bill C-309, An Act to establish Gender Equality Week, is an effort to raise collective awareness of existing gender-based inequalities and to work towards the establishment of a more inclusive society. We need to identify problems in a frank manner and understand that government simply cannot solve these issues alone. This is an effort on which we must all lead, and we have before us an opportunity to achieve real progress in our communities and across the country.
Thank you very much.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Spengemann.
Nanci-Jean Waugh, Director General, Communications and Public Affairs Directorate, Status of Women Canada: Madam Chair, senators and Mr. Spengemann, I am pleased to be here to participate in the discussion on Bill C-309.
Bill C-309 puts a focus on learning about the gaps and the challenges faced by Canadian women, in addition to transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. This bill will encourage us to all become informed and aware of gender equality issues and remain engaged during gender equality week and throughout the year in achieving greater inclusiveness. With gender equality week occurring during the last week of September, it’s a great foundation for us to build on to roll out three other commemorative dates that the Government of Canada recognizes: Women’s History Month, in October, which focuses on the achievements of Canadian women and girls throughout our country’s history; the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11, which focuses on the promotion of equal opportunities for girls and has a bit more of an international focus; and Persons Day on October 18, which recognizes the inclusion of women in the legal definition of “persons” in Canada. Two of the members of this committee are recipients of the annual Governor General Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case. To put a plug in, the nomination process is now open, so please submit nominations.
Gender equality week would consist of initiatives to underscore the importance of gender equality for all Canadians. The Minister of Status of Women and Status of Women Canada would play a primary role in its promotion in partnership with other federal government departments and civil society. The intention would be to address key equality issues faced by women and girls, in addition to highlighting equality barriers for transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. This would also be an opportunity inside the federal government to focus attention and promote the use of gender-based analysis plus, and this week would be used to advance this.
With the passage of Bill C-309, Canadians would have an additional opportunity to understand gender equality, help close the gender gaps that remain and increase awareness of emerging issues.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much.
Senator Ataullahjan: Good morning, and I apologize for being a bit late. I was at the mercy of the bus.
Thank you for your presentations. Mr. Spengemann, what stakeholders did you engage with regarding this bill?
Mr. Spengemann: Senator, thank you very much for your support and for allowing me the opportunity to be with you this morning. Within the confines of a private member’s bill and the limited resources and time available, we did reach out to a substantial group of stakeholders across the country, including sports organizations, professional associations and Indigenous women’s groups, stakeholders who we, with a short consultation time frame and set of resources, felt had something to say. If the committee wishes, we could provide the entire list of stakeholders we consulted.
Their input, especially the input from Indigenous and health organizations, was instrumental in shaping the preambular paragraphs that you see in front of you.
The essence of the bill is that set of 20 or so preambular paragraphs because the last portion of it — the declaratory portion — makes no sense without the preambles, which spell out the reasons why we want the fourth week of September to be gender equality week. We approached the stakeholders with the parameters of a private member’s bill and asked them what, in their view, would be the most important existing challenges that the Canadian public should know about, in frank and precise language, and create opportunities to engage in.
That outreach effort was highly instrumental. I want to give credit to my assistant, Adrian Zita-Bennett, who did much of the heavy lifting on the compilation of the preambular paragraphs and the drafting of them. What you see through those paragraphs are the voices of a number of women’s organizations across our country from a number of different angles and perspectives.
Senator Ataullahjan: Talking about the preambles, the preamble of Bill C-309 calls on men and those who do not identify as women to remain engaged in achieving gender inclusiveness and gender equality in Canada. Why was it so important to mention the involvement of men in the preamble of this bill?
Mr. Spengemann: There are two components. I said earlier that government can’t do this alone in the sense that we cannot legislate ourselves to success. We can put legislation forward, and there is important legislation that has come forward and that is being planned, but without broad public awareness and engagement, the projects of gender equality won’t go anywhere.
That is particularly important and true for men and boys, not only because in so many respects they occupy the male-dominated spaces, but also because true gender equality requires a mind frame change on the part of all genders. Organizations like the HeForShe campaign have been instrumental in inspiring us, but there are many other groups of men and boys and untapped groups as well who have not fully engaged whom we need to reach out to to let them know that they are not the enemy but the ally required to achieve the progress we need to make in this country and, more importantly, senators, you know as well through your work through the Inter-Parliamentary Union, globally.
Senator Ataullahjan: Regarding Status of Women Canada, in your remarks you talk about learning about the gaps and challenges faced by Canadian women. Can you elaborate on that?
Ms. Waugh: For example, gaps of women and girls in non-traditional occupations, and we know that women and girls still experience larger incidents of violence. That is just two examples.
Senator Hartling: Thank you both for being here. I’m very excited about this bill, as you know.
Mr. Spengemann, what stirred you to get involved with this bill, and how did you learn about gender equality?
Mr. Spengemann: This is a very good question because often it’s a combination of factors that come into inspiring a private member’s bill.
I was the given the opportunity in the lottery to bring something forward; I think I drew No. 38, so it was something I had to think about fairly quickly. It wasn’t immediately apparent to me that I would do something on gender equality, but it was apparent to me I would like to do something on social justice and inclusion.
We have an inscription on my constituency wall that was put up about a year and a half ago that says “building a more inclusive community.” It’s those words — that’s the way I interpreted my function. It is about the community. Inclusiveness is a broader agenda; gender equality is a big component of it, but there are many other aspects.
The specific component or the specific issue that we decided on was inspired by the woman that I mentioned earlier on, Rachelle Bergen. She came to me as a former schoolmate. We hadn’t seen each other in 20 years, and she wanted to do something on the status of women, on the protection of women, the empowerment of women, and she was looking initially at the sector of education. We had a quick conversation and had constraints from the federal perspective because education is a provincial jurisdiction, but we decided to do something more broadly on gender that would encompass an initiative that incentivizes education to come on board but to look at something that would be declaratory in nature and, unbeknownst to both of us, also with national reach. That’s where gender equality came on the horizon, and not just the education component, which we think is front and centre, which is why I mentioned in my opening remarks the need to have the provincial governments as partners, but also things like gender-based violence and the economic component.
When Senator Ataullahjan asked how men and boys can be engaged, men can be engaged particularly through the economic argument, if they are not already engaged, because it is so powerful. If we had pay equity tomorrow, it would be an economic benefit globally in excess of $10 trillion. That cannot be ignored. It is significant and will lead to new conversations.
A declaratory bill is sometimes held up as simply that, declaratory, and people are skeptical as to the impact. My feeling was we need to create an incentive and a pivot to Canadian civil society. With so many areas still unresolved and wide gaps still existing, unless we get civil society on board, we will not move the country forward. So one focused week once a year when everyone points to the issue will help move the yardsticks.
Senator Hartling: Ms. Waugh, nice to see you again. For Status of Women Canada, say the bill goes through, would we be able to do it early as this September? How would you roll that out? Is there discussion on that?
Ms. Waugh: We are in the preliminary stages of that discussion. One of the elements front and centre this year is we will couple it with gender-based awareness week, so that will be a primary focus within the federal government. We would start to position it as the beginning of the discussion for Women’s History Month and the other commemorative dates that happen over the course of the year. We like the timing of it. It’s after the summer holidays, and people are coming back to normal work and school routines. People are starting to look at how to organize the year. We like the way this is opening the discussion upwards and forward.
It also helps by having a discussion about gender equality in its widest sense, and then we can narrow it into the various discussions on violence against women, rights for girls, persons types of events and what that means, and then Women’s History Month and leading up to International Women’s Day in March.
Senator Hartling: I’m also thinking that in June of 2019 a huge conference is happening in Vancouver. It seems to me like the planets are lining up for us. Thank you.
The Deputy Chair: Senator Boyer, welcome to our committee today.
Senator Boyer: I’m happy to be here and for such an exciting topic. I have a question for you, Mr. Spengemann. The Native Women’s Association of Canada has implemented a culturally relevant gender-based analysis for at least the past 10 years. Specifically, the stance that they take is that culture cannot be separated from gender. That’s very important when they’re looking at their policies and assisting with any policy development within Canada. Did you consult with the Native Women’s Association of Canada when you created this bill?
Mr. Spengemann: We did. A couple of Indigenous women’s groups and Inuit groups were part of the consultation. My offer is to provide the committee with the entire list. That may aid your deliberations and further thinking on the bill, but yes, they were part of the conversation.
Senator Boyer: Did they discuss culturally relevant gender-based analysis?
Mr. Spengemann: That’s implicit in some of the preambulatory paragraphs, especially with respect to intersectionalities. That is technical and bureaucratic language. Part of our mission as people who are going to be involved in the implementation to bring to life gender equality week would be to tell our communities what culturally relevant gender roles are. “Intersectionalities” doesn’t mean anything to anybody who hasn’t been involved on a policy side of it. But if we tell people stories — imagine an Indigenous woman who is a senior who may also be lesbian and have a disability — and put those different lenses to find out what kind of situation she might be in vis-à-vis another woman leader in the community, that understanding will evolve quickly. So those conversations need to happen, and a lot of learning needs to take place on the part of all of us as MPs, but also residents and constituents.
Senator Boyer: And listening to the voices of the people.
Mr. Spengemann: Absolutely.
Senator Martin: Thank you, and apologies for my lateness.
I was looking at the briefing document that we all received and noting that the Government of Canada lists approximately 26 days, weeks and months on the website where these days are designated to women and gender. You are looking at the fourth week of September as the designation for this gender equality week.
I guess I need to always answer to various caucus members and senators in the chamber who see various bills come through where we’re designating a day or a week. With so many days already on the calendar in which perhaps many of these events and initiatives could be included, I would love to get a few more convincing defences of the need for such a week.
Ms. Waugh, sometimes in focusing on specific groups or populations, there is the danger of perhaps being exclusive. Could you speak about the plans that your department has to make sure that what we do is inclusive?
Mr. Spengemann: Thank you very much for that question. It is an important one and was discussed actively. The decision to go with a week at the end of September reflects a compromise of a number of different facets that you describe.
First of all, why a week, why not a day or month? In light of the preambular paragraphs you have, I think a day would probably not be sufficient for academic institutions and not-for-profits to delve into the subject matter and to generate dialogue in the community. A month can be lengthy and can encroach on other designated months or weeks. We felt the horizon of a week, given the importance of the subject matter and the need to align with other declared months and days and weeks, would be important.
We decided September would be useful because academia and education, which play a pivotal role in the process, would be settled back into the fall term after the summer. If we had chosen early September, which may have created less conflict with other things happening in the fall, people would not be in their routine, would not be able to give the topic their full attention. Late September works well from the perspective that this is not a celebratory bill. We have Women’s History Month coming up in October, which is celebratory. It’s a distinction in terms of approach.
We want to acknowledge achievements made by Canadian women and women across the world, and the bill does that. It doesn’t celebrate but shows the Canadian public that there are substantial areas that still need to be resolved.
Senator Martin: Is there a need for a designated week? What you’re talking about is important, and if universities, colleges or even high schools see the importance of it, it’s something that should be discussed throughout the year. Individuals and groups can make it a focus at any time. That’s the question we get asked: Why do we need a designated week?
Mr. Spengemann: It’s a very good question, senator. It’s the national amplification of what will happen during that week. You can say that we’ll create a hashtag, and that could be very important. If you look at Bell Let’s Talk, we take mental health seriously all year round, but on that one day we have the entire country tuned in, there are news stories, connections being made through social media and through meetings and conventions that do not normally happen during the year where everybody goes back into their stovepipe. Lifting it all up for a period of seven days nationally each year can create the leverage that we need to move things forward.
Senator Martin: That was a good answer, amplification, and to talk about why. I think that’s an important thing for us to highlight.
The Deputy Chair: Senator Martin used to be a teacher, so I think she just gave you an A.
Ms. Waugh: Thank you very much. The question earlier was around the inclusion. One of the things that we try to do with all of our commemorative events is provide a bit of a foundation, but we ask other organizations, be it within the federal government or outside organizations, to partner with us.
Then they can take a theme or they can take the spirit of the week and move it within their own communities, whether it’s the Native Women’s Association of Canada or the White Ribbon Campaign or local schools. They can make it into their own because they know what resonates within their own communities and within their own organizations, where the gaps might be, where education or more work needs to be done.
Senator Martin: Even before this bill is legislated, one of the groups I should highlight is in B.C. I do not know if you have worked with them or consulted them. I’m sure you are aware of them, EVA BC. They have a great program with the B.C. Lions football team and high school students, which engages the players and boys and girls in the schools. So I can see them as being a very effective partner.
Mr. Spengemann: What you’re talking about — amplifiers, multipliers, role models — absolutely, 100 per cent.
The Deputy Chair: Ms. Waugh, in your opening comment you spoke about the Persons Case award to honour Canadians who promote the equality of women. Perhaps you could let our listeners know where they would find this information to nominate somebody. We will give you a double plug today.
Ms. Waugh: Thank you very much. If you go to our website, www.women.gc.ca, you can see the commemoration of the Persons Case and the Governor General Awards. That should be in the rotating banner at the top, and we would love to have nominations. The nominations are open, I believe, until July 3.
The Deputy Chair: I would like to thank both witnesses this morning. You have been excellent at giving us information on the importance of the bill.
Honourable senators, we will continue with our study. We’re going to change the order because we have one person from Edmonton on video conference. The other person will join us from British Columbia later. From Edmonton, we have Ms. Anjum Mullick, Director of Engineering Services, Business Planning and Support, City of Edmonton. In Ottawa, we have Ms. Annie Chau, Project Coordinator, Advancing Women’s Equality, Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre & Sexual Assault Services Association.
For the study of Bill C-309 today, we’re hosting a special panel in the context of Asian Heritage Month. We’re celebrating Asian Heritage Month, and we’re also looking at Bill C-309. We’re going to showcase the talent, the expertise and the contributions of women of Asian heritage to gender equality.
Before we begin our panel discussions, is it agreed that Communications be authorized to take photos during the hearing this afternoon?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much for that.
Anjum Mullick, Director of Engineering Services, Business Planning and Support, City of Edmonton, as an individual: Good afternoon. Thank you for your invitation to give my presentation today. It is a great pleasure.
My name is Anjum Mullick. I am a civil and environmental engineer located in Edmonton. After working for 18 years in private engineering consulting, primarily in the mining and oil and gas sectors, I took a position with the City of Edmonton as the Director of Engineering Services a year and a half ago, and I could not be more opposite to my predecessor.
As you are likely well aware, there are very few girls and young women entering the fields of science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — and fewer that remain and make it into leadership positions and even fewer leaders of Asian descent.
As the director, 90 per cent of my approximately 100 staff are male and White.
My parents were born in India and immigrated to Canada in the 1960s under Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s Liberal government. I was born in the remote northern mining town of Sept-Îles, Quebec. My father is a retired metallurgical engineer, and I spent my formative years living in Fort McMurray, Alberta. I was one of very few Brown girls living there at the time, so very few people to relate to. As a first-generation-born East Indian, there were only three careers to choose from: doctor, lawyer or engineer. So here we are today.
My passion for gender diversity, and particularly in STEM fields, was ignited when I was an undergraduate in civil engineering at the University of Waterloo, and one of the civil buildings did not even have a women’s washroom. Campuses today still have several engineering buildings with no women’s washroom, like the mining engineering building here at the University of Alberta.
This is rather problematic, especially in Edmonton where, and I can attest to this, we have six months of winter. No one wants to be trudging across the snow to go to the washroom, especially when the men don’t have to. That is just one of the many barriers that are simple to remove when it comes to achieving gender equity yet still persist.
I am co-chairing the next Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology Conference here in Edmonton, which starts tomorrow; so, unfortunately, I can’t be in Ottawa with you today. A big part of our programming is dedicated to including girls and, in particular, Indigenous girls. Edmonton, as you know, boasts the second-highest urban population of Indigenous people.
I’m also on the board of directors for the Canadian Centre for Women in Science, Engineering, Trades and Technology and have sat as an industry adviser on a few academic research programs, most recently the Engendering Engineering Success study led by Dr. Elizabeth Croft, formerly from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of British Columbia.
I get involved with many local organizations associated with women in leadership, and finally I chair my department’s diversity inclusion committee at the city.
I was delighted to hear that the Senate is in its third reading of Bill C-309, which particularly refers to the dearth of women in STEM. As a South Asian Canadian woman in a male-dominated field, I know it is imperative that young girls and women have role models with whom they identify and in fields that they would not necessarily consider. Having a national week dedicated to gender equality, where not only the accomplishments of a diverse sector of Canadian women are highlighted but also the barriers that still exist to achieve gender equality, would contribute to achieving these goals.
As I interpret Bill C-309, it will raise awareness regarding the complexity and inherent intersectionality that must be addressed if we are to progress. Having resources dedicated at a federal level demonstrates commitment and emphasizes the importance of achieving these goals both nationally and internationally.
I would also like to add that when governments make concerted efforts, positive change does happen. When the provincial NDP came to power in Alberta in 2015, they recognized that the provincial boards were overwhelmingly overrepresentative of a certain demographic. Policy was developed and legislation was passed to increase board diversity. I am an example of how a qualified and competent visible minority woman may not have been considered to be on the Alberta Environmental Appeals Board, which I am now a part of. Prior to my appointment, the 12-member board was comprised of 11 men and one woman. The 2016 appointment, which was to replace six, was 100 per cent women and one visible minority.
Again, I am honoured to present in front of you today and welcome your questions.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much.
Annie Chau, Project Coordinator, Advancing Women’s Equality, Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre & Sexual Assault Services Association, as an individual: Thank you for inviting me, senators. My name is Annie Chau. I am a Canadian-born daughter of Vietnamese boat people, and I am a feminist. I have been working for feminist organizations for 10 years. I reside in Antigonish in rural northern Nova Scotia and work for the women’s centre there.
My work in women’s equality has been largely focused on community-based and community-led projects to strengthen sexual violence response and prevention.
I am encouraged by this bill, An Act to establish Gender Equality Week — a week to mark and to celebrate the achievements in gender equality, of course, but also, and more urgently, to call attention to the courageous actions that need to be taken to progress gender equality and to demand them.
I know the power of events. Events can help make public, make visible and make a community of social justice issues that are often made private, made invisible and are problems that become individualized.
At Take Back the Night, women-led demonstrations against violence against women held in cities and towns across Canada and across the world, I’ve experienced how powerful these events are, where survivors find themselves and find each other in their stories at an open mic, where survivors witness other survivors loudly marching on the streets, reclaiming those streets as their own and, in subsequent years, when they are ready, where they themselves march.
So for a gender equality week, an event that will make public, make visible and make a community of these issues, this is what I hope for. In working on gender equality, we must centre women’s equality and the equality of trans women, gender queer women, non-binary, gender nonconforming and two-spirited people who are invisibilized because of the marginalization of their gender.
We must also talk about men who are invisibilized in these conversations for another reason: the power and privileges their gender affords them.
And we need to understand the complete lives — the social, economic and political identities — of all women: racialized women — particularly Brown and Black women — missing and murdered Indigenous women, women living with disabilities, women confronting the forms of oppression intersecting with and reinforcing gender inequality that marginalize, threaten and harm specific women, settler colonialism, religious imperialism, anti-Black and anti-Brown racism, sexism, heterosexism, cisgenderism, sizeism and ableism. We need to address these together because the very way these oppressions operate is because of their dependencies on one another, and all of these are ways that women are made “less than.”
Also, we must address the challenges facing women living in rural areas, where access to opportunities, livelihoods and services is greatly lacking and where poverty and housing are real concerns. In Atlantic Canada, in particular, there is circular migration out West for work which is constantly disrupting the lives of women and their families in our communities.
I hope that this week will work to address these issues that concern gender equality and to drive change, and that in doing that there is a centring and a deep hearing of those voices who have been driving this change all along.
Feminist and women’s centres and sexual assault and rape crisis centres, despite inadequate funding, are critical community organizations that continue to offer supportive services and do that necessary culture and systems change work towards gender equality in their communities. For us, gender equality week is 52 weeks long.
I’ll now share of what I have learned about gender inequality in my current work with an Indigenous community, a public school system and a university. In Indigenous communities, there is a new form of colonialism taking place where Indigenous women know that reporting violence puts their children at risk for apprehension.
In public schools, there are market pressures for young women in finding and expressing their bodies, identities and sexualities as they try to toe the line between being sexual but not slutty.
On post-secondary campuses, rape myths endure and are realized where victims are blamed and women are considered at fault and perpetrators are not held accountable.
These are various contexts in which we must demand gender equality for this week and for all weeks.
Thank you, and I welcome the chance to reflect on your questions.
The Deputy Chair: We’re still working on setting up the video conference with Ms. Chaudhry from the University of British Columbia, so in the meantime we’ll have questions.
Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you for appearing before us and for your testimony. My question is to Ms. Mullick.
I am a South Asian-born Brown person, and I don’t know if anyone else understands that term, but in South Asian homes you hear it quite often. My children will often say, “Us Brown people.” I don’t know. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s not good to hear that.
There are specific challenges faced by people of South Asian heritage, where there is a great disconnect that the women feel partly because of family circumstances and partly because of the role that the husbands have and how a lot of these women will not go against their husbands. I have been a volunteer in the schools for a long time, and I would see that our children sometimes lead double lives, especially the girls. There are different rules for boys and girls.
How do we encourage the parents of these children and South Asian families to realize that girls and boys are equal?
I always repeat this comment where this mother told me, “My daughter is like a boy.” I asked why, and she said it is because she earns and brings money home. I asked, “Why can’t you recognize that you have a strong, competent daughter who is capable of looking after herself and you?” That realization is still lacking in the South Asian community. How do we get that message across?
Ms. Mullick: That is a very complex question. As you’ve noted, our culture tends to be so rooted. Even several generations in, you’re seeing stereotypical expectations of gender roles.
One of the things I have found successful is to come back to that simple role modelling. I work with what we would call “uncles” in the community. They see me and what I have accomplished, and they see potentially their daughter in me. A big part of it is being exposed to differences rather than perpetuating the expectation that, “My daughter is going to get married and stay at home. Yes, she might go to university, but eventually her role is to take care of the family and be subservient.”
I think it is role modelling and exposure, particularly by men in the community, to strong South Asian women.
Senator Ataullahjan: The other comment was that you say there are no women’s washrooms in certain engineering colleges. It is 2018, we’re in Canada, and that’s still a conversation that we’re having.
There’s a huge link. It’s the provincial governments, the federal government, the various departments. How do we convince them to give women positions of authority? Not just positions so they can say, “We have X number of minority women working in our department.” We’re still struggling. We do have women there, but they always stay at a certain position.
To both the witnesses, how do we do that? Also, as Asian women, how difficult has it been been for you? What have been some of the challenges and barriers?
Ms. Mullick: From my experience, what I have found to be most helpful — and I know there’s a bit of controversy around this — is actually setting objectives. You need to have strong leadership from the top to set the tone and set objectives, to say, “You know what? We’re going to have 30 per cent women on boards. We are going to recruit women to 30 per cent of academic positions.” And as a result, start setting a strategy.
Coming from the business world, we place importance on it and we develop strategies and measurable objectives around it, and if we just say, “Yes, diversity is important” and it falls off by the side of your desk, you won’t accomplish anything. It sounds controversial, because then you start hearing things like quotas, and we’re just hiring people because they’re women or visible minorities or whatever, another group that is under-represented.
But again, if you can demonstrate the tangible benefits of diversity in a business setting and that you’re not going to make poor business decisions to meet objectives, you set them and you set out on a path to meet them. If you don’t, you go back and say, “What worked and what didn’t?” We develop multi-faceted strategies from sponsorship. That’s beyond mentorship. That is someone in a leadership position who has identified a high potential person as an up-and-coming talent.
I attended the Gender Summit last fall in Montreal, and the VP with VIA Rail was there. When he took over eight years ago, the board had one woman, and he said, “You know what? I’m setting this objective of 30 per cent women in five years’ time. So when you come to me at the last stage of a recruitment, you must present to me a qualified female and a qualified male candidate. And if you’re choosing the male candidate, you need to explain why you’re choosing the male candidate.”
When you have to go to your CEO and use terminology like “it’s the right fit” and these sorts of nebulous things that are inherently biased, you start to reflect and say, “Why am I actually selecting this person or the other?”
He also indicated that if the pool isn’t there and you can legitimately demonstrate that, the next question is this: What are you doing to nurture the next phase so that we don’t come back two years from now for the CFO position and we’re still down to two White male candidates?
I think it comes back to setting objectives and strategies to meet those objectives.
Ms. Chau: I second all the important and critical thoughts from my fellow panellist. I will also include that we need to create the conditions where women are welcome, addressing child care so that they can participate to the full extent in their careers and our economy.
So, yes, requiring and mandating a percentage of boards to include women is very important, but also creating conditions where they’re welcome.
Senator Hartling: Thank you very much to both of you for being here. It’s a very interesting topic. First of all, I’ll ask a question to you, Annie. You’re living in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, which I know very well. I went to university there. It’s a very small place. I have a couple of questions for you. First of all, how did you get introduced to feminism? And in a small rural town, I don’t know what the diversity is like there now, but can you expand on that and how you found your place there?
Ms. Chau: Absolutely. Often, I think that feminists, upon reflection, always believed that they were feminists but didn’t have the label for it, so I’ll share that.
There was a moment when I was first starting out in my career and working for women’s organizations where I didn’t believe I was feminist enough. I recall being in an interview in Kingston, Ontario and being asked what my feminism means and my experiences of feminism. In that moment, I was able to recall the experiences I had as a child. In that moment, it clicked with me that I am a feminist, that I have been a feminist, that have always been concerned about my own ability to move around in the world and about that of women like me.
I will say my journey with feminism is ongoing. I think feminism is a process, and you’re constantly challenging yourself to do your work better and to include women who are not like you and are even more invisibilized and marginalized.
My work at the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre has allowed me to understand other women’s lives in a very deep way, particularly in my work in Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation, which is in my county of Antigonish. The experiences and resilience these Indigenous women have shown me has only furthered my feminism.
Senator Hartling: Thank you. Do you see the bill as helping to mobilize people in your area?
Ms. Chau: Absolutely. I believe in the power of events, as I mentioned in my statement. I’ve seen events bring awareness to people who were walking by and how important it is to continue to make people aware of things that are not readily obvious to all of us.
Antigonish is a small community, and a lot of folks know one another. In some ways, it’s hard to be so visible, but in creating those conditions where issues are brought up and are seen, that’s where change can happen at a community level. I see that at the individual and community level, where people find support with one another. That is quite remarkable, and I think events — weeks, International Women’s Week, a week like this gender equality week, Take Back the Night — are really key moments in our communities’ awareness and gathering.
Senator Hartling: Ms. Mullick, thank you for sharing your story and your profession. I was very involved with the engineering folks in my community in Moncton because of the December 6 issue, and I met quite a few women engineers. But like you said, there are not that many of you.
How do you get your support? If this bill passes, is there something you would see with the engineering group and the people you know that could help move things forward? Could you talk a little bit about that?
Ms. Mullick: You’re absolutely right. There are very few of us. You have to seek them out. Canadian universities are only graduating about 18 per cent women on average, and unfortunately, 10 years into their career that drops in half to about 10 to 11 per cent. So Engineers Canada, which is the national organization that governs us, has set an objective of 30 by 30, and I’m reiterating this whole thing about objectives. They have helped mobilize the different provincial organizations, most of which now have a women in engineering type of employee resource group to help advance those objectives.
Again, I think having something from the federal level would also reinforce with the provincial and territorial governments the importance of achieving not only equality but, at a very minimum in engineering, also raising those numbers, because 18 per cent is just abysmal when you look at a number of other countries in Asia and Eastern Europe that are easily graduating 50 per cent women.
Senator Hartling: Excuse me, did you say in Canada how many women of Asian heritage are in engineering? Do you know?
Ms. Mullick: That I don’t know. They only track women and men. There are 18 per cent women, so a fraction, I would say.
Senator Hartling: You’re a great role model for women and girls. Thank you.
Senator Martin: Thank you to both panellists. I think your presentations were really well articulated.
Ms. Mullick, I should confess that as a daughter of Asian immigrants, I was not given any choice in my university studies, and I was forced to try and get into engineering. I remember having my locker in the physics engineering building, looking at a wall of men from previous classes and wondering if I could ever make it.
I failed to become an engineer, so I have great respect for just how challenging the studies are for everyone.
When my colleague asked you the question and you were talking about how it’s important to have really effective strategies and objectives in order to achieve what goals you set out as to whether it will be 30 per cent or whatnot, that’s tokenism. I think as an Asian woman in politics, I have been confronted by comments from people who will question how I can be in the position that I am or that I’m doing what I’m doing because of certain concessions that perhaps have been made. So, this concept of tokenism.
I’m always conscious that, if we’re doing a gender equality week or whatever we’re doing, we really aim to have programs and articulate things so that we avoid reinforcing or perpetuating some of those ideas around tokenism.
Would you, Ms. Mullick, speak to how you achieved the position you have and what kinds of genuine support and programs and individuals helped you achieve it?
And perhaps you could even speak about some ideas that you may have for Status of Women Canada in the rollout of this week, because I’m sure you have attended events and are part of initiatives that are authentic and effective. I would like to hear about some of those examples.
Ms. Chau, there are certain assumptions from Asian communities or ethic communities about what Caucasian Canadians may think or perceive about us, and I say, “them and us.” I remember visiting the small town in which my husband grew up in his formative years, feeling like a minority for the first time, and yet there was no reason for me to feel that way.
I’m curious to hear about your experience in Antigonish and maybe even challenging some of the preconceived ideas you may have had and how we can learn from everyone and that this week can be a way to exchange those ideas from rural to urban Canada, not the other way around.
Ms. Mullick: Who would you like to begin?
Senator Martin: Ms. Mullick, go ahead.
Ms. Mullick: I understand you asked two questions: one was about my career progression and what helped me get to the position I’m at today, and the other is ideas for rollout so that it’s meaningful and avoids tokenism and perceptions. Is that correct?
Senator Martin: Yes. Very good.
Ms. Mullick: Regarding the first question, I emphasize all the time the strong role models and mentors who believe in you. It started for me in high school, where I had excellent calculus and physics teachers who encouraged the girls in the class, who, frankly, were the smartest ones when it came to calculus and physics, to pursue those sorts of careers.
Ms. Chau mentioned the barriers in rural schools. Growing up in Fort McMurray at the time, while it wasn’t rural, it was isolated; there weren’t a lot of resources for seeing different careers that could be out there. But because it was a mining down, there were a lot of engineers, going back to role models.
Going into university, seek out people who elevate you and whom you elevate. I had professors who were overtly sexist and said there was no room for women on construction sites. “Why are you in civil engineering?” He would show slides of women in bikinis at the end of lectures, and this was in 1992, so it was not that long ago.
But we were able to approach our dean at the time and say, “This is still going on,” and he was an advocate. He started the first women in engineering group at the University of Waterloo. So finding male advocates is absolutely essential.
I was fortunate to have really good managers from early on in my career in co-op terms to my first engineering position. I was often in remote oil and gas sites where there is no port-a-potty for the women. They are simple things, but they make you feel excluded. Ms. Chau talked about this as well: You start at the basic level of making the environment hospitable to women. We have spent centuries creating a workplace that makes men feel comfortable.
As I said, with the managers I had, I was fortunate. They pushed me beyond my comfort zone and gave me opportunities that I probably wouldn’t have done myself. Again, a lot of research shows that women self-select out of positions, so surrounding yourself with people that believe in you and say, “Hey, you can do this,” is what has helped me get to where I am.
If we set objectives, the perception that being a visible minority maybe you were selected for certain things other than competency — that will persist regardless. What I say to young women is that you will demonstrate that you are just as capable, if not more, for the position you are selected for because we have these inherent stereotypes and barriers that we face and biases that are pervasive.
That would be my answer to the first question. I have been surrounded by great mentors who believed in me and pushed me to take on experiences and projects and positions that, in some cases, I would have self-selected out of.
For your second question regarding rollout, this may seem like a very simple, trite response, but just make it meaningful and reinforce that there are actual tangible actions that come from this.
When Minister Duncan said, “Oh, look at all the NSERC funding going to all the men,” she made it clear that if you weren’t going to put forward women as chairs, she was going to cut the funding to the universities.
So it’s not necessarily consequences but rather going beyond “these are some fancy banners” and looking at what you’re actually doing about gender equality. What is the government actually going to do beyond that? Develop a strategy around that.
Ms. Chau: I’ve never thought more about my race than I have living in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. I believe that experience has been challenging, and it has made me more aware of my own identity and the ways people presume my identity onto me. Very critical in maybe centring reality is understanding those experiences of marginalization, particularly in rural settings where those differences are stark and impactful.
I was also thinking about your statement about tokenism. Especially in a rural place where you might be the only Asian woman in the room, and they are looking to you to represent all voices and identities concerning an issue. My experience and strategy around that is to take on that role of being a token and holding that space but then looking at how, when I’m in that space — connecting with Ms. Mullick’s concept — ally-ship. How do I create more space for people like me or people unlike the others at the table? That’s really important.
Tokenism is challenging, and it’s hard to be that one person, but I see it as an opportunity to continue, because we must continue, even with the one spot that we have at the table. Maybe the chair is pulled in from another room, but I think that’s really important.
Senator Pate: Thank you to both of you, and congratulations to both of you on all the work you’ve done, often in the face of hard circumstances.
One of the issues that has certainly been raised in the work that I was doing before I came to the Senate and since is that when we start talking about gender equality, one of the challenges that often falls off the table is a very clear analysis of things like violence against women.
Ms. Mullick, you talked about your professor in 1992 putting up images of women in bikinis — this whole objectification of women. When I had the opportunity to host a girl child event here last October, all those young women raised dress codes, what they wear, how they present, the stereotypes about women, and women’s equality and violence against women. I thought, “It has been a long time since I was their age,” and those issues are still not being dealt with.
How will a gender equality week that actually morphs more issues into this potentially help cloud this issue of the need to fundamentally deal with violence against women and women’s objectification, pornification, et cetera? Do you think that’s just something we have to deal with, or do you see something happening we can build upon? Certainly, more women in leadership positions like yours is part of that. Having met a few nights ago young women who are in engineering now, I heard the same issues. It’s not just 1992; they are still struggling with those. You mentioned no washrooms in some schools.
It’s wonderful that we’re talking about leadership positions of young women like you, but what about the young women who are being kept down because of these other issues? What can we be doing to address that as well?
Ms. Chau: We must absolutely centre women in gender equality work. We must centre women’s equality. When we do that, and we know the whole lives of women, which includes their racial identity, their socio-economic status, their sexuality — all those pieces — that sheds even clearer light as to the issues. The issues are very interwoven and difficult to address in the myriad ways they impact women’s lives.
But women’s organizations and feminist organizations, and the feminist approach, allow for that centring of women and also looking at other factors that are difficult to parse out.
There are experiences I’ve had that I don’t know whether it’s because I’m a woman that I’m getting these comments or because I’m a racialized woman or both. So it’s important to centre those experiences, because it sheds light on how oppression is interconnected. Particularly for young women who are dealing with challenges that I didn’t have to deal with when I was in high school — in a lot of the work we do, we meet with young women one on one, we meet them in groups and they share these experiences. Again, centring their experiences as youth is really key as well.
Ms. Mullick: To your question about whether this will cloud the issue, the issue as outlined in the bill is complex. The rollout and ongoing implementation have to be multi-faceted.
I speak to young engineering undergraduates routinely, as a lecturer or guest speaker, and I still hear things like, “In our co-op prep class, they’re talking about what appropriate attire is. It’s all focused on men. For the women, it’s offhand: “Just don’t wear low-cut blouses and short skirts.”” This is 2018 — a class taught at the U of A.
I’m representing a different issue. I have made it to a leadership position. I still face obvious barriers, and that’s why I’m saying I don’t think it clouds the issue. We have to address it from the very basic all the way to the women who are in leadership positions. That, again, comes back to a very clear strategy around which areas we want to focus on and where we feel the priorities are. We have ministers, as I’ve mentioned previously, who are tackling the academic area. We have other ministers who are dealing with the inherent socio-economic issues facing Indigenous women.
I don’t think we should be concerned that because we are having to look at all of these things through a wide lens, it would cloud the issue.
Senator Pate: I will give an example of what one young Indigenous woman said. She juxtaposed the issues of missing and murdered Indigenous women and the push for young women to appeal to a certain model of what young women are supposed to be — a sexualized, objectified model, I would have said, based on the way they described it. Then they talked about how they are then punished for doing that if they attract the male gaze, whether of other students or of teachers.
This young Indigenous woman, in her mind, was given all of these contrary messages. Then if she is really smart, then somehow it’s not because she’s smart that she’s getting ahead. I hear you that you’re saying it doesn’t cloud the issues.
I think there is a lack of clarity sometimes on the precision of some of the things that are still keeping many young women down, particularly Indigenous women and racialized women. But thank you very much, and congratulations to both of you on all the work that you are doing and the positions that you hold. They are important leadership positions for young women.
Senator Ataullahjan: As minority women, in the current atmosphere, which seems to have changed, with what is happening south of the border, words that are being used, thoughts and emotions that are being verbalized, we’re hearing things that people would never have said before. Has that made any difference to you? Are you feeling it also, that the atmosphere has changed?
Ms. Chau: Yes. It’s an interesting context. We have #MeToo, and some reforms in the entertainment industry in the U.S. Meanwhile, there are people in positions of power who openly spread sexist, misogynistic comments. It is a confusing space for both young women and young men in trying to navigate a particularly hyper-sexualized context where there are expectations on young women and men, how they perform their sexuality. In many ways, I think things haven’t changed, but in other ways I feel like things have. Personally and professionally, it is a very confusing time. It demands that we talk about this more, and a week like this is important.
Senator Ataullahjan: I see why you’re responding to my question. I see that struggle within you in how you describe it. You’re still restraining yourself, but obviously the change you feel is there. I felt it.
Ms. Mullick, would you like to respond?
Ms. Mullick: I don’t have much to add to what Ms. Chau said, but yes, it has certainly changed things. At times it is quite disheartening, and you kind of want to give up and say that nothing has changed in 30 years or even longer. But I think our government is making progress and, as Ms. Chau said, this bill is a demonstration that this is something of importance and something that is supported. Gender equality is not an issue that will go away any time soon, irrespective of some of the things that are manifesting south of the border.
The Deputy Chair: Any further questions? I would like to thank both witnesses, Ms. Chau and Ms. Mullick. You have been wonderful.
You have shared your stories. You told us about the wonderful jobs that you are doing. As Senator Pate said, congratulations to both of you on the jobs that you are doing and the role models that you are. I know sometimes being a role model is a challenge, and you say, “Please take the spotlight off me for a little while and let me just be me,” but you are both wonderful models.
You have added to the dialogue on the bill before us, Bill C-309, but you have shed special light on Asian women as we celebrate Asian Heritage Month. You have done double duty today. We are very appreciative of your appearance before us. Thank you very much.