By Ariel Vered
Photos by Chris Roussakis
The Canada-India Centre for Excellence celebrated International Women’s Day 2017 with “Gender and Empowerment 2.0,” an engaging panel attended by Navdeep Bains, minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED).
Event moderator Pauline Rankin, associate vice-president (Research and International) noted that 2017 marks the 108th year of celebrating International Women’s Day. The recent news that Iceland will be the first country to require proof of equal pay is encouraging, she said, “but it’s 108 years later and we are still talking about these issues.”
She asked the panel to speak about gender empowerment in their field and what actions must be taken to catalyze change.
Groundwork Must Begin Early
Corinne Charette, senior assistant deputy minister at ISED, spoke of the advantages that the federal public service offers women at all levels and agreed that the groundwork must begin early in school to encourage and mentor women
Banu Örmeci, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Jarislowsky Chair in Water and Global Health, highlighted the importance of mentoring young girls and women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
We must start working with elementary and secondary school students, she said, because by high school, female students find themselves at a disadvantage, which continues every step of the way once they enter the workforce.
“This is a problem for Canada,” said Ormeci. “This is a very competitive global knowledge and innovation-based economy . . . Women are underrepresented and we can’t lose the skills of 50 per cent of the population.”
Bains, the father of two daughters, paid tribute to the women in his life who provided him with a strong foundation to succeed and said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s gender parity cabinet is about promoting a message of inclusivity and diversity of thought.
Disclosing Gender Composition on Corporate Boards
“We as a government are taking action,” said Bains, referring to Bill C-25, a proposal to increase diversity by requiring publicly traded companies to disclose the gender composition of their corporate boards and senior management to shareholders.
“Canadian businesses will benefit from better performance and stronger balance sheets as a result of having senior leaders from a wide range of backgrounds,” he said.
Bains praised colleagues, Bardish Chagger and Kirsty Duncan, for their work encouraging women in science and entrepreneurship. “The core of ISED’s mission is for women to have the tools to succeed in all facets of life,” he said.
Gopika Solanki, an associate professor in Political Science whose research focuses on women’s rights in South Asia, asked how we put gender at the heart of the most pressing conceptual questions of our time, including how to use knowledge for social change and how to give marginalized women access to law.
“How do we recognize the rights of minority groups and at the same time accomplish gender equality within these groups?” she asked.
Using the example of India, she looked at states recognizing religious laws and pointed out that the strategies of individual women litigants – working with the Indian women’s movement, lobbying the state for reform, building networks, experimenting with creating women’s courts – have all resulted in an incremental rise in gender equality in religious laws.
Women’s Access to Opportunities
Lorraine Dyke, professor and associate dean, Sprott School of Business, addressed women’s access to opportunities in Canada over the past 25 years. Surveys of the Canadian workforce by Catalyst, a non-profit that promotes the advancement of women in the workplace, show that progress has been made in managerial jobs, but access to senior decision-making roles is limited. Furthermore, the average pay gap in Canada is $8,000 compared to $4,000 globally, and 10 to 15 per cent of the wage gap is attributed to discrimination.
“What we really need to address is changing attitudes,” said Dyke, noting that gender role expectations represent significant barriers to women as managers.
“Every girl should believe she’s strong enough to face the challenges of her journey,” said Pradeep Merchant, co-chair of the centre, highlighting Air India’s recent record-setting flight from New Delhi to San Francisco and back which was operated by an all-female crew.
Deputy High Commissioner of India to Canada, Arun Kumar Sahu, echoed the sentiment.
“Women in India have broken the glass ceiling,” he said, referring to its impressive record of female politicians. “India today is in transition, and women are at the centre of that transition.”