We come together again this year to celebrate International Women’s Day on Friday with the theme of “Better the Balance, Better the World.” This is a call to action for a gender-balanced world. Women in many countries have come a long way, yet there is still a lot of work to be done in Canada and around the world.
Gender imbalance is not just a challenge for women, it’s a business and economic issue. The P.E.I. Coalition for Women in Government reports, “National and international research on corporate boards confirms it: increased gender balance and diversity on boards results in better financial performance.” The coalition summarizes studies that clearly show, “When a board achieves gender parity, women and men tend to work more collaboratively, generate more creative ideas, draw from multiple perspectives, and devise robust solutions to problems.” We need gender balance in our boardrooms, our governments, in media, in sports, and many other sectors. Gender balance is essential for communities and economies to grow.
Economic effects are also personal. Earnings and income levels affect equality, and women’s incomes remain unfairly out of balance. The Canadian Women’s Foundation tells us that as of 2016, more than 1.9 million women lived on a low income. Shockingly, a third of women in the workforce make less than $15 per hour. Women are more likely than men to experience poverty. A 2018 study by Angus Reid indicated that 16 per cent of Canadians could be categorized as “struggling” economically. This means that they face ongoing difficulty covering expenses for basics including food, utilities, winter clothing, housing, and dental care, and may have to use services including “pay day loans” and food banks to get by. Of Canadians in the “struggling” category, 60 per cent are women. And women who are Indigenous, disabled, racialized, new immigrants, and gender and sexuality minorities are additionally disadvantaged.
Another area in need of balance is caregiving. Women still carry most of the load of caregiving to children, seniors, and people with disabilities, and a lot of the work is unpaid. A more gender-balanced world would better support caregivers, to help women with the burden of care for families and communities, and also support men to take a larger role.
In order to reach gender balance, we must learn to work together to bring about the changes that are needed, not only on a world-based platform but right here in our own little province. That means keeping gender on the radar, challenging stereotypes, and recognizing that gender identities and roles can be fluid. It also means equality for all women in all places. We are responsible to achieve the highest level of equality we can in our province and our country, and to contribute to the empowerment of all women worldwide.
A more gender-balanced future is possible. Together we can build a gender-balanced world. As we enter an exciting period of history where everyone expects equal access and participation, we notice its absence and celebrate its presence. On International Women’s Day, let us celebrate our successes as women, and let us also use our power to raise the voices of those around us to become aware of the importance of a gender-balanced world for everyone. And work for better.
Yvonne Deagle is the chairperson of the P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women.