Mediaplanet spoke with the Honourable Maryam Monsef to discuss the importance of gender equality in Canada and beyond.

Mediaplanet: What are the largest challenges women face that deserve extra attention?

Maryam Monsef: Women have made a lot of progress, but that progress is not carved in stone. There is always pushback to our hard-won gains. So first and foremost, we must not take any of our progress for granted and push back against the pushback, so that we move forward and not back. We can’t afford to. The average Canadian woman earns just 88 cents on every dollar their male counterparts earn. Every 60 hours, a woman is killed in Canada. Every 6 days, a woman is killed by her intimate partner or ex-partner. Only 27% of the seats in Parliament are filled by women and women occupy just one in five seats around Canada’s corporate boardroom tables. The gaps get worse as realities like disabilities, race, sexual orientation, and geography intersect with gender. There’s more work ahead of us than behind us, but our government is committed to a future where all our kids are equal in every way, and we have a plan to make that a reality.

With the progression of the 21st century, what are the largest accomplishments to date for women in Canada?

In the past century, women have secured fundamental rights through the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including the right to vote, the right to equal pay for work of equal value, and the right to make decisions about our reproductive health.

"We must not take any of our progress for granted and push back against the pushback, so that we move forward and not back."

Four years ago, Canadians elected an openly feminist prime minister who appointed Canada’s first gender-balanced cabinet and began implementing a plan that’s created over one million new jobs for the Canadian economy and achieved the lowest unemployment and poverty rates on record. This is a significant milestone because it shows that when governments support women, everyone benefits. When other decision-makers see that equality is driving economic growth in Canada, they’ll be more likely to focus on improving outcomes for women and their families, creating momentum for a rising tide that lifts all boats.

How do we move the needle forward?

People across our country are moving the needle forward every day. Many thanks to all the leaders who use their power to advance equality while showing profitable bottom lines, parents who set the same standards for their kids regardless of gender, employers who walk the talk, organizations doing the work on the ground, the men and boys who call out inappropriate behaviour, the people who stand up against those who spew hate on social media, teachers who guide their students to dream big dreams, mentors and champions who open doors for women, and citizens who expect their government to stand up for women’s rights, to name a few. (What gets measured gets done, so we are carefully tracking our progress across 32 common indicators and making adjustments as need be. Check out the Gender Results Framework and the Statistics Canada's Gender and Diversity Portal!)

Broadening to an international scope, what do you see as the challenges and opportunities for advancing women’s and girls’ rights and empowerment in conflict and crises?

Canadians are caring people known around the world for our proud traditions of international aid, diplomacy, and peacekeeping. That’s one reason why Barack Obama said the world needs more Canada. Through our smart Feminist International Assistance Policy, Canadians are continuing that proud tradition.

"When women have control over their bodies and when women’s rights organizations have power to advocate for rights, [...] communities are stronger, peace becomes more durable, and our planet is more stable."

War, climate change, populism, displacement, and lack of access to basic rights and services, such as essential sexual and reproductive health services, disproportionately hurt women and their families. But the evidence shows that women and girls play a vital role in establishing and maintaining peace, every dollar invested in contraceptives saves $2.20, and that the best way to advance gender equality is to invest in grassroots women’s organizations.

That’s why, at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver, we announced smart pledges that make Canada the number one investor in the world for women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health rights organizations. When women have control over their bodies and when women’s rights organizations have power to advocate for rights like those we enjoy in Canada, communities are stronger, peace becomes more durable, and our planet is more stable.

How does Canada’s G7 commitment to girls in crises protect and empower women and girls?

Canada’s G7 meeting in 2018 marked the first time that world leaders heard directly from women’s rights advocates. Canada’s leadership led to world leaders coming together to make the single largest investment in education for women and girls in conflict zones. As Malala Yousafzai says, when girls are educated, they grow up to be healthier, wealthier, and great contributors to sustainable peace in their communities.

What do you believe the key takeaway needs to be for Canadian readers?

Gender equality in Canada has the potential to lead to $150 billion in economic growth in less than a decade. We have labour shortages, and in the new global economy, we need a diversity of talent more than ever before. We can’t afford to leave anyone out.

All the progress we are making is because of you and generations of Canadians who have come before us. Canada’s economy is booming; more than 800,000 Canadians are no longer living in poverty; we are fighting climate change and advancing reconciliation with Indigenous people because Canadians gave us the mandate to do so. With the one million new jobs created during our mandate, more women are working than ever before.

Our plan is working, but there’s still so much more to be done. This is what a choice to focus on equality looks like. I hope you will challenge all political parties to continue this progress.