07/29/2015 06:30 EDT | Updated 07/29/2016 05:59 EDT

30 Years Later, We Still Need a Women's Debate


To debate or not to debate -- that is the question?

Election fever has begun in Canada well before the election call. So much for the concept of a six-week election blitz. One of the issues floating through all of the talk is a push for a leaders' debate on women's issues similar to the televised one held on August 15, 1984. In 1984 few could imagine that a need would exist for another debate in 2015. Surely all of the issues facing women in Canada would be resolved by then!

Sadly this is not the case. Canada, once a leader respecting advancement of women has slipped behind other countries. The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap report 2014 listed Canada as 19th in the world behind Burundi and South Africa. This was down from Canada's 14th place ranking in 2006. The report measures a country's progress respecting women's advancement in four areas -- educational attainment, economic participation and opportunity, political empowerment and health and survival. While Canada ranks first on educational attainment and most health outcomes, the lag occurs in economic participation and opportunity and political empowerment.

In the context of an upcoming election it is important to note that Canada ranks 52 in the world for parliamentary representation. In 2012, with Deloitte, our Centre for Women in Politics and Public Leadership published a report, Progress in Inches, Miles to Go, which clearly showed the gap in women's representation in senior leadership roles across all sectors in Canada. Women continue to be significantly underrepresented on corporate boards in Canada representing only 17.1 per cent of FP500 directors in 2014.

Women entrepreneurs, who play a key role in our economy, struggle to obtain capital to grow their businesses and face a multiplicity of reports telling the world they are risk averse. A gender wage gap remains in Canada between women and men although the statistics vary as to the exact amount. According to a Statistics Canada 2011 report the wage gap in Ontario was 26 per cent for full time- full year workers.

Violence, sexual assault and harassment against women are almost daily items in our news and police reports. The high number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women is a black mark for Canadians in our desire for equality.

Do we need a leaders debate then? Absolutely because it sends an important message that women's continued inequality in Canada is a societal and economic issue and is of concern and a priority for decision-makers and all Canadians. There is a clear link between Canada's economic success and women's success. President Obama demonstrated his leadership and understanding of the significance of women's role in the future success of the U.S. economy when he said to a women's leadership forum "when women succeed, America succeeds."

What are obstacles to a debate? Obvious ones are the need for a broadcaster who will take up the challenge and leaders willing to participate. Secondly, and less obvious is the misconception and belief among many Canadians that equality for women has already been achieved. I often hear this statement and " look, our men are falling behind." Certainly men have been falling behind in educational attainment in recent years. Should we be concerned? Yes, but it should not be equated with the idea that women have achieved equality in Canada. All of the evidence points to the contrary.

We cannot assume that a debate will be a panacea for equality issues. A debate can, however, raise awareness and put political parties on notice that further action is needed. Canadians will be re-engaged in the imperative to take action for the future of their daughters, granddaughters, sisters and wives. At the same time, we can demand that all parties demonstrate their commitment to achieving equality in Canada through their leadership and initiatives. We need more political leadership in Canada where leaders continue speak about the links between women's success and Canada's success and take actions to facilitate the goal of equality.

Governments, however, cannot achieve equality on their own no more than they can achieve economic success without the work of all Canadians. They need the private sector to step to the plate and fully recognize women's talent and advantage in growing their business or non-profit. Governments need to take the leadership to show the private sector that women's equality matters for their success and take strong steps when encouragement alone does not achieve results. A debate will set the stage for re-invigorating the movement forward to advance women and Canada.


Canadian Cities For Women 2015