A group of women sit around a meeting table.

Women’s History Month: Intersectionality and Action

This March is Women’s History Month, and International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated every year on March 8th to recognize the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women across the world. It is also a day to raise awareness about the ongoing struggles that women face and to advocate for gender equality across the world. In Canada, IWD has been celebrated for over one century, and, while progress has been made, women everywhere still face systemic barriers to equity.  

Equality vs Equity: what’s the difference?

One of the key concepts in the fight for gender equality is understanding the difference between equity and equality. In short, equality means to treat everyone the same, regardless of their individual circumstances.

On the other hand, equity recognizes that everyone has different needs and requires different supports to achieve equitable outcomes.

In other words, equity is about ensuring that everyone has access to the resources they need to thrive, regardless of their race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, or any other identity they hold. An equitable workplace is a space in which women are given ample opportunity for receiving promotions, pay raises, and increased responsibility.

Equality: there are four medium-sized bikes. A wheelchair user sits next to it; the bike is too small for the second person, a good fit for the third, and too big for the last.

Equity: the first rider uses an accessible tricycle, the second rides a large bike, the third a medium bicycle, and the forth a small one. Everyone has what they need to ride comfortably.
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Trans women and non-binary folks are an integral part of Women’s History Month. Trans women and non-binary folks have their own unique set of barriers as they are more likely to have mental health concerns, experiences with homelessness and poverty, as well as a lack of access to healthcare (Resource 1) (Resource 2) (Resource 3). The feminist movement has had a history of excluding trans women and non-binary folks from conversations around Women’s History Month, but they have played an essential role in women’s history. Stonewall Riots were led by LGBTQ2S+ folks and queer folks were at the frontlines of the suffrage movement.  

An intersectional feminist lens is crucial in understanding the ways in which different women and non-binary individuals are impacted by systemic inequities. Intersectional feminism recognizes that different forms of oppression intersect and compound, creating unique experiences of discrimination and marginalization across individuals. For example, a white woman may face sexism, but a woman of colour may face both sexism and racism, and a disabled woman of colour, may face ableism, sexism, and racism. Trans women and non-binary individuals experience a unique set of barriers due to their gender identity. This must be considered, and not excluded, when talking about gender equity in Canada and in the world. 

So, how does this play out in “the real world”? 

Here are five ways that women face inequity in Canada today: 

Wage gap:
  • Women in Canada earn an average of 87 cents for every dollar earned by men. This gap is even wider for women who belong to other equity deserving groups, such as Indigenous women, women with disabilities, LGBTQ2S+ women, and women of colour. 
Tip to close the wage gap:
  • Conducting an analysis within your own organization can help determine a baseline for any employees that are facing an inequitable wage gap in regards to gender. StatCanada provides a formula for calculating the gender pay gap that may exist in your company here
Lack of representation in leadership:
  • Women are underrepresented in leadership positions in Canada, including in politics, business, and the non-profit sector. This lack of representation means that women’s voices and perspectives are not fully heard and are not considered in shaping key decisions. 
Tip for Increased Representation:
  • Employees can review and revise their hiring and promotion policies to ensure that they are fair and unbiased. This can include creating more diverse interview panels, establishing objective criteria for promotion, and regularly reviewing promotion and pay data to identify any gender disparities. 
Gender-based violence:
  • Women in Canada experience high rates of gender-based violence, including domestic violence, sexual assault, and femicide. This violence is often exacerbated by other forms of marginalization, such as racism, gender identity, sexual orientation or poverty. It should be noted that trans women face more gender-based violence than any other group. 
Tips to reduce gender-based violence:
  • Employers can provide training and education to all managers on gender-based violence, including how to recognize and respond to warning signs, how to report incidents of violence, and how to provide support to victims. Training and education should be ongoing to ensure that employees remain aware, informed, and ready to act. 
Lack of access to childcare:
  • Women still bear the bulk of caregiving responsibilities, which can limit their ability to participate fully in the workforce. Despite this, access to affordable and high-quality childcare remains limited in many parts of Canada. 
Tips to increase childcare options:
  • Employers can offer flexible work arrangements to all employees, such as remote work or flexible hours, to help them balance their work and personal responsibilities. This can allow employees who have childcare responsibilities to attend to their children’s needs and employees who have other responsibilities and needs to attend to those needs.  
Discrimination in healthcare:
  • Women may face discrimination in accessing healthcare, particularly if they belong to an equity deserving group. For example, Indigenous women may face discrimination in accessing reproductive healthcare, while trans women may face barriers to accessing appropriate healthcare that coincides with their gender identity. 
Tips to provide appropriate healthcare options:
  • Employers should assess health insurance coverage options and ensure that it includes coverage for women’s healthcare needs and benefits that support employees who are transitioning. This can help to reduce the financial barriers to accessing healthcare services. 

Ask women what they need!

There is much work to be done to address these challenges and all other forms of inequity facing women in Canada. One way we can make progress is to center the voices of women, particularly those who belong to equity deserving groups, in discussions about policy and practice.  

What does this look like? 

This means actively seeking out and amplifying the voices of women of color, Indigenous women, trans women, women with disabilities, and other groups that are often excluded from the current decision-making processes. Take a look at the senior leaders in your organizations and assess what groups of people have a voice in your company. It also means advocating for policy solutions that recognize and address the unique needs of different groups of women, rather than assuming a one-size-fits-all approach will be sufficient. In other words, it means to advocate for equitable solutions, rather than equal ones. 

This Women’s History Month (and every other month) let’s commit to working towards a more equitable world for all women. 

Women’s History Month: Intersectionality and Action