Did you know there’s an index that ranks The Best Countries for Women in the world?
It’s not as comprehensive as the United Nations Human Development Report but the report explains why the world, including thousands of want-to-be Canadians, love Canada. It also helps to explain why Canadian Immigration phone lines crashed under the heavy call volume following the 2016 U.S. election results. Canada’s feminist success is cause for celebration on July 1st – Canada Day.
Canada turns 150 years and the celebratory signs are everywhere. On a recent visit to Toronto, I marveled at the window displays in stores, the number of people wearing Roots Canada Day clothing and the special packaging on Canadian chocolate treats (it really does taste better).
According to the complete list of The Best Countries for Women Report, Canada takes the #2 spot behind Sweden. The victory is based on five key measures: “human rights, gender equality, income equality, a safe environment and progressive laws.” These findings followed survey by 21,000 global citizens who voted in 80 different countries.
For a relatively young country, Canada is on the right track but it will take time to catch #1 ranked Sweden. A wonderous two thirds of all university degrees in Sweden are earned by women and gender equality is a key cornerstone in Sweden’s government. Their website is ridiculously progressive and states, “The overarching principle is that everyone, regardless of gender, has the right to work and support themselves, to balance career and family life, and to live without the fear of abuse or violence.”
Making Gender-Equality A Government Cornerstone
Take a minute, if you need to, and read that principle statement again. It’s just amazing. While Canada is moving in the right direction, this kind of progress is a big step up even though are bright spots in Canada include current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s governmental changes. Trudeau has shown more than his six-pack abs on YouTube as a charity boxer, or his hipster-hot, tattoo wielding arms. He climbed the world leader ladder when he used International Women’s Day to hashtag #EqualityMatters. To bring gender-inequality into the spotlight and the federal cabinet, Trudeau appointed a new cabinet giving men and women equal representation.
The bright red and white maple leaf flag is also forging a better path for women’s access to healthcare benefits. Unlike the U.S. maternity leave of 12 weeks with no job guarantee, Canada boasts a full year and a guaranteed job at the end of the leave. If you live in Quebec, the job flexibility and perks increase bringing the benefits even closer to some of Europe’s maternity-leave superstars, like Finland and Sweden. Quebecer’s can take shorter maternity leave for higher pay or dad-designated leaves that provide opportunities for enhancing greater division of labor at home.
Despite these gains, the political landscape is still far from perfect in Canada, as the Best Countries Report points out. There is much work to be done to ensure all Canadian women have the same experience. The most egregious disparity is the plight of Indigenous women who have endured decades of discrimination and violence without justice. Even the United Nations has asked the Canadian government to launch a federal commission to investigate the unsolved murders of thousands of missing First Nations, Inuit and Metis women in Quebec and Vancouver.
Recently, I attended an “Indigenous Voices Rising” seminar to hear writers speak about Indigenous needs and challenges. Despite the growing interest among Canadians to know more about Indigenous issues and injustices, the seminar didn’t offer ideas about how we can all work together across diverse cultures, ideologies and beliefs. I know this wasn’t part of the seminar’s focus but I mourned the lost opportunity for discourse.
Lee Maracle, a First Nations author and critic speaking at the seminar, spoke with a sharp tongue and open candor about the struggle to fight racism, sexism and economic dependency. For Lee, Canada’s 150 year birthday happened a long time ago, and she even suggested we attach a few extra zeros on the end to make it closer to the real date. As I left the library and waffled about whether or not to celebrate the night with a bag of red and white M & M candy, I vowed to start reading stories by Lee and other women like Cherie Dimaline and Lisa Charleyboy. O Canada starts with me.