Women Deliver 2019: Gender Equality is Still a Struggle in Canada—and Most of the World

At the world's largest conference for the health, rights and well-being of girls and women, which takes place in Vancouver this week, speakers stressed the significance of concrete data leading to policy changes when it comes to achieving gender parity. 

June 4, 2019

By Anicka Quin / Photo: Women Deliver

“Let’s agree that less bad will never be good enough.”

The Crown Princess Mary of Denmark was talking about gender equality—how women’s rights being “less bad” than they were 10, 20 years ago doesn’t mean we have achieved parity—when she said these words today (June 4) at the Women Deliver 2019 conference in Vancouver. Her empowering remarks received cheers and applause—a reaction that’s become commonplace in downtown Vancouver this week during the world’s largest discussion for the health, rights and well-being of girls and women from around the globe.

Taking place at the Vancouver Convention Centre until Thursday (June 6), Women Deliver 2019 has drawn over 8,000 delegates from 169 countries. And between the list of high-profile speakers (Melinda Gates, Anjélique Kidjo, Justin Trudeau, the aforementioned princess) and the delegates and other influential figures in attendance (many of them from countries as far away as Togo, the U.K. and Ghana), it’s tough to not be more than a little moved by this global gathering, which takes place every three years and, in the past, has been hosted in cities such as London, Kuala Lumpur and Washington.

Crown Princess Mary’s native Denmark hosted Women Deliver in 2016. The data session she opened today was focused on the release of the Equal Measures 2030 2019 Sustainable Development Goals Gender Index, which is the most comprehensive tool available to explore the state of gender equality across 129 countries (covering 95 percent of the world’s girls and women). The report also tracks gender equality in 14 of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as poverty, health, and hunger and nutrition; and 51 targets linked to issues in those goals, such as wage equality, access to family planning and women’s literacy.

The release of this index at Women Deliver 2019 could potentially lead to concrete policy shifts, noted the Crown Princess. “If you cannot see it, you cannot fix it,” she said. “Data makes the invisible visible. You can’t close the gender gap without closing the data gap, and gaps in data make it difficult to monitor the progress for women and girls.”

Data makes the invisible visible. You can’t close the gender gap without closing the data gap, and gaps in data make it difficult to monitor the progress for women and girls.

She was joined on-stage by Alison Holder, director of the report’s publisher, Equal Measures 2030. (The year in its name refers to the goal year of reaching global gender equality. According to this latest study, no country in the world has yet demonstrated an ability to do achieve this.) “1.4 billion women and girls live in countries that get a poor score. And no country received an excellent score,” Holder noted. “But there are pockets of good progress and pockets of good news, even in those [nations] that struggle. In several sub-Saharan African countries—in Ethiopia, for example—on the indicator that shows weather women can rise to the highest ranks of power in government: these numbers outperform those of countries that are at the top of the index.”

The panel on the Power of Data at Women Deliver 2019. From left, host Julie Gichuru from Kenya’s Acumen Communication Limited, Equal Measures 2030’s Alison Holder, OECD’s Gabriela Ramos, former Australian PM Julie Gillard, and Dr. Ephraim Kisangala, a Commonwealth Scholarship student from Uganda.

Canada fares okay, though not great in the report, with an eighth-place position when it comes to countries in Europe and North America. We are handily beat out by Nordic countries like Sweden, Finland and Denmark, as well as Slovenia. Canada ranks well in terms of social assistance, maternal mortality and education, and we reach near parity in terms of women in STEM research positions. However, we tank out on climate change and women’s representation in the climate change political process (hey, oil sands). In addition, there’s a continuing pay gap from coast to coast. In fact, according to the index, a racial median income gap exists in every Canadian province, and university-educated Canadian-born members of visible minorities earn, on average, 87.4 cents for every dollar earned by their average non-minority peers.

At Women Deliver, Julie Gillard, former prime minister of Australia, noted the role that activists play in having such data help move the dial at the policy level. “Government has to be in partnership with the community,” she said. “At the end of the day, government does need activists to create more community dialogue. The command-and-control systems of the past are long gone. Now we need more community members who are understanding and engaging—and that’s only possible through a dynamic relationship with activists.”

Key in interpreting this data and its power to shift policy rests in the way that economic success is measured, noted Gabriela Ramos, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development‘s (OECD) chief of staff and sherpa to the G20. “The data is worth nothing unless you use it for good policy making,” she said. “We need to change the way we measure economic success with the GDP. It’s delivered badly for the environment, for gender issues.

“We need to not treasure what we measure, but to measure what we treasure,” Ramos added.

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