Analysis: On the eve of Malala visit, it’s clear we could use more feminist prime ministers
David Akin is the new chief political correspondent for Global News in Ottawa.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a series of events in New York City last week promoting feminism, female entrepreneurs and a generally larger role for women in the world.
One might think, as columnist Robyn Urback did, that “we get it,” that such symbolic showy displays by Canada’s feminist prime minister are no longer required. Because it’s 2017 and all.
On March 23, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence tweeted out a remarkable photo of a meeting at the White House where Pence was trying to convince a group of U.S. legislators to vote for his administration’s health care overhauls.
The healthcare reforms under scrutiny would have reduced the ability for millions of American women to get access to birth control and would have chopped maternity care for millions more.
The photo was remarkable because the 23 people around the table with Pence considering cuts to women’s health and child care were all men.
Fast forward a week and move to Brussels, Belgium to a meeting of NATO foreign ministers. As is typically done for most meetings of this type, the group gathered for a “family photo” at the conclusion of the meeting.
That family photo is as remarkable as the Pence picture for it contains 29 men and just two women, one of whom was Canada’s foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland.
Fast forward one more week, to April 3, and a series of by-elections in Montreal, Ottawa, Markham, Ont., and Calgary.
The results of those contests were largely unremarkable in that each was comfortably held by the incumbent party and the political calculus of the House of Commons would have remained unchanged regardless.
But as many — usually women pointed out — it was remarkable that four of the five by-elections were won by women. But even with those extra four, there are only 92 female MPs in the 338-seat House of Commons. That’s not even one-third.
Just before Trudeau’s New York City visit, we learned that one of Trudeau’s male MPs made an offensive, sexually suggestive remark to a female Conservative MP at a House of Commons committee meeting. The male MP subsequently apologized in the House of Commons.
Trudeau, of course, had to kick two of his male MPs out of his caucus altogether early in 2015 after learning the pair made unwanted sexual advances on other female MPs.
While in New York, Trudeau met with YouTube CEO, Susan Wojcicki. The PMO said the two “discussed a range of issues in relation to women’s empowerment, including how to promote women in business leadership.”
WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki
And while it’s great that YouTube has a female CEO, it’s not so great that YouTube’s corporate sibling, Google Inc. stands accused of “systemic” discrimination against women. That accusation was made last week in a U.S. federal court by a U.S. Department of Labor official though Google denies the charge.
Google has disclosed that just under one-quarter of its leadership roles are filled by women.
Google, though, is not the only Silicon Valley star to be singled out. There are plenty of tech industry titans, including Uber, Microsoft, and Amazon, who have come under fire for gender discrimination and, in some cases, sexual harassment. Turns out working in the Valley is not so much fun if you’re a woman.
WATCH: On International Women’s Day, here’s what women are still fighting for
Back here in the nation’s capital, the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women is busy looking at what can be done to improve the economic security of Canadian women.
That committee has heard that Canada’s gender pay gap is the 8th largest among the 35 OECD countries. Women employed in full-time jobs in Canada earn about 74 per cent of what men earn.
In 2013, six of every 10 workers earning the minimum wage in Canada are women. That ratio was the same in 1997. Fifteen years and not much change.
While women are vastly over-represented on wage and poverty measures in Canada, it’s the opposite at the other end of the spectrum.
At the top levels of corporate Canada, women make up just 13 per cent of the directors of companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Almost half of the 600 companies listed on the TSX have not a single woman on their board of directors.
The Trudeau government has a bill, currently before the House, that seeks to address this imbalance. Known as C-25, it would require publicly traded companies to publish statistics about gender diversity on their boards and within their senior management as well as disclose policies to encourage gender diversity.
If a company has no such policy, it will have to explain to its shareholders why it has no such policy. The objective of C-25 is the same as Trudeau’s New York City visit: Change the culture, not by decree, but by persuasion and example.
On Wednesday in the House of Commons, parliamentarians and all Canadians will hear from one of the world’s shining examples of the empowerment of women and girls.
Nobel prize winner and honorary Canadian citizen Malala Yousafzai survived an attack by Taliban assassins in her native Pakistan when she was 15 years old and went on to become a global advocate for the right of girls everywhere to get an education.
She will meet with Trudeau while she is in Ottawa and, no doubt, Trudeau will use the opportunity to remind the world of his own brand of feminism.
Do we get it?
Well, from the boardrooms of the White House to the highest councils of global diplomacy to Canada’s own legislatures and corporate boardrooms, it’s pretty clear that no, we don’t get it.
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