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Be Bold for Change – International Women’s Day 2017

Be Bold for Change – International Women’s Day 2017

Be Bold for Change – International Women’s Day 2017

International Women's Day 2017

March 8, 2017

Be Bold for Change – International Women’s Day 2017 

Today is International Women’s Day – a day recognized around the world to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It’s also a day to call for action to help build a more inclusive, gender-equal world.

Last week local women and men got together to recognize IWD at the 16th annual Women In Niagara (WIN) Council lunch. This year WIN recognized Dr. Rosemary Hale with the 2017 International Women’s Day Award and she truly exemplifies this year’s IWD theme: “Be Bold for Change” as a bold and inspirational leader. We are fortunate to have so many bold and inspiring women leaders to celebrate on occasions like today, and every day.

We have a long and proud history of women’s leadership in our community. Some of these local stories have been on display at the Leading the Way exhibit at the St. Catharines Museum for the last year (see it now before March 19!). This exhibit showcases some unknown women leaders who have helped shape our community for the past 150 years.

And yet, despite the progress we have made towards equality, there is still much work ahead. This is another reason why IWD 2017 is so important.

For the past few years the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has published an annual report called “The Best and Worst Places to be a Woman in Canada and disappointingly, St. Catharines/Niagara does not rank well in this national ranking. In 2015 we were ranked 16th and in 2016 we dropped 3 spots to 19th.

I’ve been ridiculed for paying too much attention to too many rankings, but this is one that we must absolutely pay more attention to. Why is St. Catharines / Niagara not a great place for women? And why is it getting worse?

The report gives us some things to think about. The rankings are based on women’s representation in politics and leadership roles. It also looks at poverty rates, unemployment and community safety. It provides a snapshot of the gaps between men’s and women’s economic security, personal security, education, health and leadership in major Canadian cities, including our own.

In Niagara we know that poverty costs us over $1 Billion every year. We know that unemployment and under-employment remain a very real challenge for workers, families and new graduates. This report shows us that women’s levels of full-time employment are among the lowest of Canadian cities with only 36% of women holding full time jobs. Employment income is below the national average.

Several provinces are now led by female premiers and the Prime Minister has appointed a gender-balanced Cabinet, but still, only a few Canadian cities are led by a female mayor. In St. Catharines, 2 city councillors are women, making up 13% of city council seats. At Niagara Region, 2 female mayors and 2 female councillors make up about 20% of regional council representation

At City Hall, the internal numbers are more balanced with about equal number of men and women among the city’s top leadership positions. We have a great team of diverse, qualified leadership.

Even more disturbing data recently came out from the Globe and Mail “Unfounded” investigative series which found that 22% of sexual assaults reported in Niagara are deemed “unfounded”.  This series highlights some of the systemic, nation-wide issues we have to confront and work we have to do with policing and community safety.

This data can be shocking and uncomfortable, but it is important to recognize on days like today. This is why we have International Women’s Day. It is why we need to talk about community safety, poverty and homelessness as community challenges that women in our communities are facing in their everyday lives.

As a father, I want my daughter to have the same opportunities as my son. I want my daughter to feel safe in her hometown and see St. Catharines as a place of equal opportunity. This is why I got involved in politics – to help build a better future for our children in our community. Clearly we’ve got lots of work to do.

This is not to be negative or pessimistic – it is reality. We know that issues of poverty, homelessness and unstable housing significantly impact women and families. Data shows that most single-parent families are headed by women and they are far more likely to struggle with sustained poverty. This means that tackling poverty and homelessness in our community will mean directly supporting women and families.

We have a lot of hard work ahead of us. I’d like to see our rankings as a great city improve for everyone – and that starts with making St. Catharines and Niagara a better place for women and girls. It’s time to get started today.