01 December 2006

Canada and the Gender Gap

The World Economic Forum recently released its Global Gender Gap Report 2006, and it gives several reasons for Canadians to be proud. We do better than most countries when it comes to gender equality, though, as always, we still have considerable room for improvement. Overall, we rank 14th out of 115 measured countries in terms of equality. It's disappointing that we're not in the Top Ten; a country that promises such opportunity and boasts of its enlightened thinking should not be on the outside looking in at that type of "club." Women still earn only 64% of what men make, the laws aimed at curbing violence against women are still weak, and women have yet to break through the political glass ceiling of Parliament. However, the trends are upward, we excel in education, and women are at the leading edge of professional and technical work. To the report itself I now turn.

The report measures equality along four main tracks:

1. Economic participation and opportunity – outcomes on salaries, participation levels and access to high-skilled employment
2. Educational attainment – outcomes on access to basic and higher level education
3. Political empowerment – outcomes on representation in decision-making structures
4. Health and survival – outcomes on life expectancy and sex ratio

On three of the four poles, we come reasonably (not superlatively) close to achieving the desired level of equality: economic participation, educational attainment, and health and survival. In fact, in a number of key measurable selections in the educational attainment category, we even come in first! Canada's women are among the most-educated and capable in all the world, receiving top-notch schooling all the way from primary to post-secondary. Indeed, there is a 1.36:1 ratio of women to men attending university, poising Canadian women to assume strong leadership roles in our society in the 21st century.

While there are many areas to be proud, there is one key category in which we are sorely lacking: political empowerment. What you're about to see is disappointing, to say the least.

That dotted vertical line, if you can't see what it means, denotes "equality." We have a very long way to go to reach that. Compare us with the country that is #1 in that area, Sweden (they're #1 overall, in case you're wondering), which has a 1:0.9 male/female ratio of representation and more female than male cabinet ministers. The Swedes have made significant strides when it comes to female political representation, and it is having a very strong positive effect on the way in which women are living their lives in that country. Swedish women earn 5% higher wages as a percentage of men's earnings than Canadian women do. Impeccable health care delivery, access, and opportunity, and get a load of this: they have a 102% enrollment rate in post-secondary education. Don't ask me how that's possible. They have a model for combatting prostitution that is the subject of study and envy in many places of the world--instead of criminalizing the victim, they put johns in jail.

I am highly optimistic about the trends and the future status of women in this country (if not the Status of Women for so long as the Conservatives continue flogging it). Education is the key piece of that puzzle. Societies which create positive learning environments flourish in many sectors: arts, economics, politics, sciences, and so much more. A society that fully permits and encourages both genders to participate in education will flourish at least twice as much as a country that does not. To this point in history, many women have worked twice as hard without reaping a proportionate level of benefits; now, with that work being compensated more fairly than in the past, and ever-increasing pushes for legitimate wage equality, their rewards will be enormous, and it is all of Canada that will prosper as a result. 21st century Canadian women still have yet to tap into their vast potential to claim their rightful place helping lead this country. When they do, we will all be much better off for it.


Annaphase Lou said...

Hey Schmoo, have you seen this?


There isn't a ton there, but it's just starting out AND it's based in Halifax.

RGM said...

The image reminds of Zelda when she's mad.