July 1, 2020
Advancing gender equality is more important than ever
2020 marks many anniversaries and important milestones on the road to gender equality, both internationally and in Canada.
In Canada, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the report from the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, which included recommendations on updating the legislative system and addressing such critical issues for women as poverty, family law, the Indian Act and the need for a federal representative for women.
It is also the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the 25th anniversary of Canada’s commitment to Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+), 40 years since Canada signed the United Nations’ convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and five years since the adoption of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
While we continue to make progress on a number of fronts, not a single country can claim to have achieved gender equality. Much remains to be done and everyone has a role to play. No one can do this alone. We need to work together, all of us.
This is especially true in the current, difficult context in which we find ourselves. We are collectively facing the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected each and every one of us. The pandemic is revealing and amplifying many existing inequalities, a sobering reminder that our work is more important than ever.
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are gendered, and these impacts are even more devastating on the most vulnerable groups among us, particularly women and girls, in all their diversity, and including racialized women and girls, Indigenous women and girls, newcomer women and girls, women and girls with disabilities, LGBTQ2 individuals, older women, women and girls living in rural and remote communities, and those living on low income, as well as their children.
The disproportionate impacts are evident: women make up 70% of the world’s health care workers and are on the front line of infection risk. Women are shouldering the vast burden of unpaid care, providing care for sick relatives and looking after children at home. Women are over-represented in service industries that have been shut down in response to COVID-19, further jeopardizing their economic precariousness. Social distancing measures that are intended to minimize the spread of the pandemic are also impacting access to sexual and reproductive health services, including for new mothers facing postpartum depression, or those women seeking abortion services. Furthermore, COVID-19 has created a shadow pandemic by exacerbating the issue of gender-based violence, as women and girls are unable to seek help or flee from violence as a result of isolation measures.
In Canada, our federal emergency response measures have been informed by GBA+ to ensure our approach focuses on providing support to those who need it most, including by supporting those with care responsibilities, those providing essential services, and those who face job and income losses due to the pandemic, as well as women and children experiencing and fleeing violence.
As the UN Secretary General and many others have pointed out, we are at a critical time when the rights of many women and girls are threatened around the globe. This is especially true in times of crisis or conflict, and the current COVID-19 situation is no exception.
These concerns stress the critical importance of implementing a rights-based and intersectional approach in our policy-making efforts, including preparedness, mitigation and response efforts. They also stress the importance of ensuring women’s inclusion in decision making to improve the effectiveness of health interventions and promote gender and health equity goals and plan for economic recovery efforts.
Considering the gendered impacts of this pandemic and incorporating the voices of women and girls into our response to the COVID-19 crisis will not only make our response more inclusive, but also stronger and more effective.
Building on Canada’s progress towards gender equality
Canada has been a strong supporter of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action since its adoption 25 years ago. In the current context, we are even more determined to reinforce that commitment this year to advance gender equality for all women and girls both in Canada and internationally.
Canada continues to build on progress made to advance gender equality.
That includes advancing human rights and gender equality for Indigenous women and girls, members of the LGBTQ2 community, women and girls with disabilities, and women and girls internationally. We must build a healthy and inclusive society to leave a lasting legacy for our children and grandchildren.
As part of this work, Canada will develop a National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence to ensure that anyone facing gender-based violence has reliable and timely access to services no matter where they live in Canada.
We also understand the critical role that women’s and equality-seeking organizations play in building a fairer and more equal Canada. That’s why Canada will continue to deliver investments to strengthen the women’s movement by supporting organizations that are removing barriers to women’s full and equal participation in all aspects of Canadian life.
In addition to working domestically, we are continuously striving to engage on and contribute to advancing human rights, gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls through our international assistance and multilateralism. Canada is committed to a truly feminist approach to foreign policy, including a Feminist International Assistance Policy, that supports the economic, political and social empowerment of women and girls in all their diversity, and makes gender equality a priority.
2020 also brings a number of opportunities to mobilize our efforts to accelerate progress towards gender equality.
In this respect, Canada is proud to be playing a leadership role in the Generation Equality Forum, as co-lead of the Action Coalition on Feminist Movements and Leadership. We are delighted to be working alongside the Netherlands, Ethiopia and the broader leadership, including civil society, philanthropic and international organizations, to make important progress in this area. Through this innovative partnership, we want to deliver concrete and bold results that will serve as a stepping stone to achieve gender equality before the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals deadline and make a real difference in the lives of women and girls in Canada and around the world.
Despite the unprecedented reformatting of this year’s 64th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, we remain committed, now more than ever, to work with our partners to overcome the challenges that the global community faces. Current and common challenges do not diminish our resolve to advance gender equality, nor our resolve to do so in a way that is inclusive, both in this forum and elsewhere. We look forward to continuing to work closely with UN Women, alongside our international and domestic partners, on our shared goal to advance gender equality here at home and around the world.