The Future We Want For Women And Girls
Education and Advocacy Sheherazade Hirji, President and CEO of Canadian Women’s Foundation, reveals the path to a brighter future by empowering women to reach their full economic and social potential.
Every so often in life, a door opens and the future we want appears before us.
Over the last few months, thousands of women in Canada have been sharing stories of sexual assault and everyday violence and — for the first time — people are listening. Casual misogyny and rape culture is being named and challenged. Feminism is on the lips of every major celebrity and news outlet, and it’s becoming clear that gender equality is just as important for men as it is for women.
These conversations give us a glimpse into a future we could have, one where women who experience violence are not blamed but believed, where this violence is rare, where women have equal economic and leadership opportunities, and where girls’ confidence is not destroyed by hypersexualized stereotypes.
But this future is not guaranteed. It will not unfold simply because more of us are speaking out. To realize the potential of this moment, we must keep up the momentum, recognize that violence and poverty are disproportionate experiences for racialized women, and collaborate with one another to take meaningful action.
Paying a high price
It’s hard to overstate the need, or the cost of doing nothing.
Between 1980 and 2012 almost 1,200 Aboriginal women went missing or were murdered in Canada. Every night, over 6,000 Canadian women and children sleep in an emergency shelter because it’s not safe for them at home.
According to the Department of Justice, domestic violence alone costs Canadians about $7.4 billion a year — that’s the price we collectively spend on everything from police to children’s mental health, from emergency room visits to funerals. The highest price is paid by the victims, in legal costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and loss of life.
“Every night in Canada, over 6,000 women and children sleep in an emergency shelter because it’s not safe for them at home.”
When a woman gets the help she needs to escape violence, right away she and her children become safer. When you teach children how to build healthier relationships, you stop the violence before it starts and the entire community becomes safer.
Women are more likely than men to be poor in Canada, and this is especially true for Aboriginal women, racialized women, women with disabilities, and single mothers.
When women are poor, their children are poor. With Canada’s chronic lack of affordable housing and affordable childcare, and the rise of precarious employment and income inequality, the prospects for women raising children on their own are troubling. Poor children often start out as underweight babies, which sets them up for future health problems, including higher rates of asthma, diabetes, mental health issues — even heart disease.
When you help a woman to move out of poverty, she and her children become physically and mentally healthier. Not only that, the whole family becomes less reliant on government assistance, can pay more taxes, and contribute more to society.
We’ve heard the stories. We know the need and the costs. All we need now is the will to take action.
Getting to the root causes
A more inclusive and equitable future will only emerge if we are guided by values grounded in inclusion and equality. That means they must inherently address the root causes of violence and poverty, and challenge gender and other stereotypes.
Government leaders, schools, employers, parents, men, and women — we all must be willing to educate ourselves, and to take practical steps toward embedding equality throughout our society.
Women are not a special interest group — we are 50 percent of the population. When we reach our full economic and social potential, everyone benefits.
If we continue to listen, to educate ourselves, and to invest in women and girls, together we can realize the promise of the future we want.