Before the end of today, you might notice a few small media stories mentioning that it's International Women's Day. If you're like many Canadians, you might wonder why we still need a day like this, especially in a country like ours.
It's tempting to believe gender discrimination is a thing of the past.
But unfortunately, women and girls in Canada still face disproportionate levels of violence and poverty simply because of their gender. And we all pay the price -- whether we know it or not.
Here's just three quick examples.
A recent study funded by my organization, the Canadian Women's Foundation, discovered that every hour of every day, a woman in Alberta is a victim of domestic violence. This finding was so startling, the Province of Alberta decided to invest in more research and spent the next two years developing a new policy framework designed to prevent family violence.
Governments are wise to take action, because domestic violence costs Canadians about $7.4 billion a year. According to a report from the Department of Justice, that's the price we collectively spend on everything from police to children's mental health, from emergency room visits to funerals. Since the full costs are so hard to calculate, the report calls this "a conservative estimate." The highest price, of course, is paid by the victims, in legal costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and loss of life. Their children, friends, and families suffer too.
Many Canadians would never imagine girls are being trafficked in their communities but experts estimate that thousands of women and girls are trafficked in Canada and forced into prostitution by people who financially gain from their sexual exploitation.
Last year, we launched a National Task Force on Trafficking of Women and Girls in Canada. Our Task Force includes police officers, academics, front-line workers, and women who have been trafficked and it has traveled across Canada, meeting with more than 150 survivors and 250 organizations.
Trafficking is a blight on the soul of every Canadian, whether we engage in the practice or simply stand by and witness it.
According to the Conference Board of Canada our gender income gap earns us a poor "C" rating on a global scale.
For some reason, most people seem to understand that income equality is a bad thing for a country's overall success, but resist the notion that gendered inequality is just as bad. Women's lower earning power means they are likely to be poor if they are single, separated, divorced, or widowed.
In Canada, 350,000 women are raising their children alone in poverty. That translates into thousands of children who are more likely to be sick, more likely to drop out of school, and more likely to face a risky future. It also means thousands of families who need government assistance and thousands of adult women who can't fully contribute to society.
Women's lack of earning power can also have tragic outcomes. Many abused women stay with an abusive partner because they will be forced to raise their children in poverty if they leave, since single mothers are more than five times as likely to live in poverty.
Despite these challenges, women have much to celebrate.
Collectively, over the years women have made tremendous progress. Today, we are witnessing a wonderful resurgence of interest in women's issues, much of it due to the thousands of women and girls who are finding the courage to share their stories and work together for change.
Although women are different in so many ways -- ethnicity, race, culture, religion, language, nationality, class -- we all experience discrimination based on our gender. That's the common ground we walk upon.
International Women's Day still matters because it's an opportunity to celebrate the progress we've made so far and to renew our commitment to keep working together for change.
It's time to invest in the strength of women and the dreams of girls. Because when we do, we all win.
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Women's Aid won an award for their domestic violence awareness campaign, which saw celebrities including Anna Friel, Fern Britton, Jemma Kidd and Honor Blackman made-over to appear as if they had been beaten.
In September the Home Office began piloting a Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, known as Clare's Law. It was so named to honour Clare Wood, who was strangled and set on fire by her ex-boyfriend. It proposes to give women "the right to know" if a partner has a history of domestic violence. The scheme came into being after campaigning to protect women from Michael Brown, the father of the murder victim.
Self-taught make-up artist Lauren Luke appeared before her YouTube subscribers in July looking battered and bruised. While the bruises were fake, the video, made in collaboration with UK charity Refuge sent a clear message to women across the globe: "65 per cent of women who suffer domestic violence keep it hidden. Don't cover it up." http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=d-XHPHRlWZk
Atonement actress Keira Knightley starred in a 2009 Women's Aid ad which saw her punched and kicked to the ground. Shot by Atonement director Joe Wright, the clip was deemed "too violent" and was censored before it was shown on TV.
An 'unofficial' campaign was carried out against singer Chris Brown, who found his latest album, Fortune, slapped with stickers reading: "WARNING: Do not buy this album! This man beats women!"
Here's Barbie as you've never seen her before - as a model of domestic abuse. A student artist has painted black eyes, bruises and blood onto the perfect faces of the iconic dolls. The art project, It's A Matter Of Trust, has the tagline 'We shouldn't be taught that life is perfect.' Read more here.
On the surface this newlywed couple look blissfully happy, but sadly reality tells a different story - one of domestic violence and abuse. Behind the smiles, beautiful flowers and white wedding gown, the groom is twisting his new wife's arm, which is battered and bruised from previous violent episodes. The powerful image forms part of a hard-hitting Norwegian domestic violence awareness campaign. Read more here.
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