11/14/2014 08:58 EST | Updated 01/14/2015 05:59 EST

The Sisyphean Plight of Women from Elections to Ghomeshi


by: Craig and Marc Kielburger

In ancient Greek mythology, King Sisyphus was cursed for an eternity to heave a massive boulder up a steep hill, only to watch the rock roll back down again and again when he nears the top. Compared to the struggles of women everywhere for equality and respect, you could say Sisyphus had it soft.

At the current rate of progress it will take at least 81 years for women globally to achieve global equality in key areas, according to a new report from the World Economic Forum (WEF). Meanwhile, from the studios of the CBC to the streets of New York, recent stories of harassment and violence against women abound.

Each year, the WEF (based in Switzerland) reports on the gap between men and women in education, health, employment and wages, and participation in governments. On average, the WEF says the world's women still only see 60 per cent of the advantages of men in these areas, an increase of just four per cent over the last decade.

There is a bright spot -- in education and health care, the hilltop is in sight in many places. While some countries still lag far behind, overall the WEF found 94 per cent of women and girls have access to the same education opportunities as males. And the world has achieved 96 per cent gender equality when it comes to overall good health.

In the world's workplaces and parliaments, though, it's a darker picture. Women still get only 60 per cent of the job opportunities and wages their male colleagues enjoy. And women hold only 21 per cent of elected government offices.

In October, Ontario and Manitoba held municipal elections. Of the more than 400 mayors and reeves elected in Ontario, only about 70 were women -- a mere 17 per cent. Manitobans elected just 15 women for 136 municipalities. The United Nations considers 30 per cent the bare minimum for female representation in government to ensure the voices of women are effectively heard in policy-making. According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Canada must elect 1,400 more women just to reach that basic threshold.

Meanwhile, like a 20-car pileup, Canadians can't tear their attention from the still-unfolding sexual harassment and abuse scandal involving former CBC radio star Jian Ghomeshi. Allegations against Ghomeshi have yet to be tested in a court. However, stories from women who have come forward show the stigma victims of gender violence encounter in 2014. Most women still remain silent than risk judgement and disbelief from society and the justice system -- especially if their abuser is a man in a position of power and respect. That's likely why only 33 of every 1,000 sexual assaults are ever reported, according to YWCA Canada. And only three of those cases ever result in a conviction.

In the world of social media, the latest viral sensation is a video from the mean streets of New York City. In a simple but horrifying project, a hidden camera followed Shoshana Roberts strolling through NYC. Over 10 hours of filming, Roberts was accosted, catcalled and propositioned by men more than 100 times. It's a graphic demonstration of the harassment many women face every day. Since the video was released October 28, Roberts has received rape and death threats.

Anita Sarkeesian understands that terror. The Toronto-born blogger and sociologist has studied the portrayal of women in video games. Her blogs have also resulted in an unending stream of rape and death threats. Last month, Sarkeesian cancelled a guest lecture at the University of Utah following an anonymous threat of a "Montreal Massacre style attack" if she was allowed to speak.

These frankly shocking events have opened up the discussion around violence and harassment against women. But we need to do more than talk.

December 6 is the 25th anniversary of the massacre at Montreal's École Polytechnique, where a misogynist murdered 14 female engineering students. It's a good time to take a serious look at why women are stuck behind the boulder, and how they can move to the top of the hill.

Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded a platform for social change that includes the international charity, Free The Children, the social enterprise, Me to We, and the youth empowerment movement, We Day.


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