Statement by Minister Monsef on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the tabling in Parliament of the Report by the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada

Statement

December 7, 2020

Ottawa, ON – The Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development, today issued the following statement:

“50 years ago today the Report on Gender Equality by the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada was tabled in parliament. This was a culmination of many months of work that dug deep into the persistent challenges experienced by women across Canada and made 167 detailed recommendations on actions to address gender inequality across the country.

The Commission was struck as a result of the tireless advocacy of trailblazing feminists. Laura Sabia, then the president of the Canadian Federation of University Women, first proposed the idea in 1966. She built a coalition of women’s organizations to pressure Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson to appoint a commission, pledging to bring 2 million women to Parliament Hill in protest if the government did not act. Doris Anderson, editor of Chatelaine magazine, devoted countless columns to calling for a commission to be struck and mounted a public pressure campaign, mobilizing women across the country. Judy LaMarsh, the lone woman in Cabinet when the Commission was struck, advocated publically and around the cabinet table, pushing the government to take action. The work of these and many other women finally convinced the government to establish a Royal Commission.

The Commission was chaired by Florence Bird, marking the first time in Canadian history that a woman chaired a Royal Commission. The other commissioners included Lola Lange, Jeanne Lapointe, Doris Ogilvie, Elsie MacGill, Jacques Henripin and John Humphrey. The Commission tabled the Report in Parliament on December 7, 1970.

The Report highlighted the inequalities faced by women and provided concrete solutions for how to address them. It touched on wide-ranging topics, grouped by theme, including women and society, women in the Canadian economy, education, women and the family, poverty, participation of women in public life, immigration and citizenship, and criminal law and women offenders. It raised Canadians’ consciousness, opening up important conversations about gender inequality and the discrimination that women faced. As a result, Canada implemented major changes that have improved the lives of women, including the introduction of parental leave, the availability of birth control and reproductive choice, and increased educational opportunities for women. When the report was tabled, there were no women’s shelters; in the years following, shelters opened up across the country, providing a safe place for women facing violence and their families.

Despite these achievements, the Report remained silent on some of the most pressing challenges that existed at the time and that we continue to face today. Gender-based violence was then and remains one of the most persistent impediments to gender-equality, with far too many women and gender diverse individuals facing violence at the hands of strangers and loved ones alike. LGBTQ2 individuals, not included in the Commission’s Report, continue to face unacceptable discrimination. While we can celebrate the progress achieved in ensuring women have more rights and opportunities, we must also recognize that this progress did not happen equally. Black, Indigenous and racialized women, as well as those living with disabilities, and women living in remote or rural communities continue to face discrimination today and have not benefitted equally from the changes of the past 50 years.

Our government has prioritized the advancement of gender equality and continues to make progress on the recommendations laid out in the Report. We have made historic investments in childcare, creating more than 40,000 spaces across the country, and expanded parental leave, helping to ensure more women can enter and remain in the workforce. In the Speech from the Throne, we committed to create a Canada-wide early learning and childcare system to give parents access to high quality, affordable childcare. We have also provided dedicated funding to provide training opportunities and recruitment programs to increase women’s participation in non-traditional and well-paying fields like science, technology, engineering and the trades.

Generations of Canadian feminists, activists and leaders pushed – and continue to push – for progress on the recommendations of the Report. Our strong and vibrant women’s movement has created and sustained momentum for and beyond the changes called for in the Report. That is why our government is providing historic funding to women’s and equality-seeking organizations. Our government recognizes that investing in these organizations is the best way to advance equality. Since 2015 we have increased direct funding to these reliable partners five-fold to ensure they can continue their vital work. 

We also recognize that when our political leadership better reflects Canada’s diversity, everyone benefits. When the Report was tabled in the House of Commons, only one woman held a seat in the House of Commons. Today, there are 100 women Members of Parliament. We have achieved gender parity in the Senate, compared to 2015 when only 36% of senators were women. And we appointed Canada’s first ever gender-balanced cabinet. To maintain and continue to build on the progress to date, we established the Department for Women and Gender Equality, the first full department dedicated to the advancement of women and people of all gender diversities.

This is one of the most challenging times our country has ever faced. COVID-19 has hit women hardest with many losing their jobs and taking on more unpaid work. Women also represent the majority of those on the front lines of the fight against COVID. But we will not allow this pandemic to roll back progress or reverse the hard-won gains of women in Canada. This crisis has exposed and laid bare many of the inequalities women and vulnerable people face and we will work tirelessly to address those as we build back stronger and more resilient. As announced in the Speech from the Throne, the Government of Canada will create an Action Plan for Women in the Economy to help more women get back into the workforce and to ensure a feminist, intersectional response to this pandemic and recovery.

Today, I encourage everyone in Canada to mark this anniversary by recognizing the women of impact in their communities, families and workplaces and honour the feminists whose struggle has created more opportunities for the rest of us. Let's also pay particular attention to the contributions of diverse women, including racialized women, immigrant and newcomer women, women with disabilities and Indigenous women, as well as women working on the front lines of the pandemic. Let us reflect on the progress made and consider how each of us can protect these gains and build on them. 

Contacts

Marie-Pier Baril
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development
613-295-8123

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