“We are facing the truth that women’s potential isn’t encouraged as it should be and we are living so many inequalities right here in our own country,” Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau told Global News Thursday morning.
She joined federal Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu to hear the stories of young women professionals, women entrepreneurs and women with young families.
“It is proven that when women enter the workforce and find their full potential, their families are healthier, there are more opportunities for women, there’s an impact economically, psychologically, physically on our society at large,” said Grégoire-Trudeau.
Find one ally in the workforce, she offers as advice.
“The more we reach out and become vulnerable and share our stories, the more people we will meet that will unite and help us to achieve more equality,” Grégoire-Trudeau explained.
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Canada’s 2018 federal budget emphasized gender equality, pinpointing efforts to increase the participation of women in the workforce as part of a longer-term plan to grow the economy and prepare for an aging population.
“If we want to have a prosperous country, if we want to continue to have a successful economy and healthy and happy people, we have to do it with the foundation of equality,” said Hajdu.
“We cannot get to that place if half of our people are left behind.”
It also included measures to increase the number of women entrepreneurs, as well as women in trades, science, technology, engineering and math.
“We cannot begin to talk about women if we do not share our experiences,” said Niousha Riahi, a lawyer.
“If there are less women in businesses, it makes them more vulnerable, it makes their lives more difficult if they have less women colleagues.”
For the many young women in the room, March 8 brings a sense of hope.
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“It’s a day we take to celebrate, to maybe put more emphasis on the work that has been done and the issues and projects and budgets,” said Medjine Antoine-Bellamy, a logistics coordinator at Social Leadership in Action (SLA).
“But it’s something that we’ll also be working on tomorrow and the days to come.”
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Yet, they acknowledge that there is still a long way to go, especially for women entering the workforce for the first time.
“It inspired me to also recognize the special struggles that women feel and it should be something we should work more on,” said Sara Couture, a member of the youth council.
“Women or girls, when they start working and not knowing what their rights are. We all struggle through that.”
Couture said she remembers working as a waitress and being harassed.
“People would change it into a joke but it’s no joke,” she told Global News.
“I feel like now we’re asking people to respect us as women and respect the struggle that we live through.”
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— With files from Canadian Press