Tuesday , October 22 2019
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Opinion: This is what we all must do to fight for gender equality

Tomorrow is the first day of Gender Equality Week in Canada – a week driven by a vision where people of all genders and gender expressions are treated fairly and have equal access to opportunities.

In my role as Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity, I meet people around the province who are directly and deeply affected by injustice and barriers because of their gender or gender expression. We are at a critical moment in the history of the struggle for gender equality and there is still a great distance between where we are today and where we need to be. Everyone in our province and our communities stands to benefit when people are truly treated as equals.

It’s still true that women earn less, on average, than men. Women are more likely to work in part-time jobs and are less represented in leadership positions. LGBTQ2S+ people and those in other marginalized groups are also too often excluded from opportunities to advance at work.

For many people, their experience of gendered violence intersects with racism, ableism, poverty and homophobia.

Every step forward must include and acknowledge their voices and seek to understand their experiences. For those at the forefront of this struggle, we stand with them as allies. Because when all British Columbians can reach their full potential – regardless of their gender, race, class, sexual orientation or ability – our communities are stronger and more accessible.

One of my proudest moments was the introduction of B.C.’s child care plan, which put B.C. on the path to universal child care so no parent has to choose between their career and family. This is the single most impactful way we can close the gender pay gap.

We’ve raised the minimum wage for workers and liquor servers – most of whom are women. We’ve also invested in housing for women creating a life after violence, which women and girls are seven times more likely to experience than men. We are also consulting on paid leave provisions for people facing domestic or sexual violence. This follows the introduction of unpaid leave provisions earlier this year, because it’s important for victims of violence to have this support without having to worry about losing their job.

Our government took action to ensure a broader spectrum of gender identity is included on B.C. government identification. Now, British Columbians can choose X as a third option in the gender field. We will also be providing publicly funded, gender-affirming lower surgeries in B.C., making us the first province in Western Canada to offer these essential procedures right here at home.

This is only the start. We are going to continue to keep working and getting results that make a difference in people’s lives.

As we work to remove barriers, we are also focusing on equal opportunities for training, good jobs and inspiring new leaders. We’re giving extra support to women in skilled trades through enhanced employment and skills training, and we are encouraging more women and girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers, from kindergarten to post-secondary training.

Having a strong economy that works for everyone, not just a few at the top, means we need gender equality in all that we do. I’m happy that women participating on public-sector boards has increased to 49% this year – an 18% increase from just two years ago. In partnership with motivated organizations such as Minerva BC, we are working to encourage the private sector to take up the challenge, because the more balance there is at senior levels, the stronger and more effective an organization will be.

I’m proud of the concrete steps we are taking to advance gender equality in B.C., and we know we can’t do it alone.

Employers, community organizations, labour organizations and communities have a vital role in fostering more balance at the executive and board levels, ensuring equal pay for equal work and standing up for what’s fair. I have no doubt that people in our province are full of ideas, inspiration and drive to help move the needle even further.

Everyone has the right to be respected, included and safe in their home, community and place of work. And when we reduce barriers to gender equality, #EveryoneBenefits.

Mitzi Dean is B.C.’s Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity