This year’s International Women’s Day theme “Each for Equal” calls for everyone to carry a responsibility and grasp opportunities to advance women and gender equity and equality in our communities.
Women and Gender Equality will be reached when Each one of us and Each sector becomes committed and accountable.
The city supports affordable housing and that is the number one concern for many women particularly those in vulnerable situations.
Back in 1982, Margaret Mitchel, one of the few woman MPs at the time, made a statement in the House of Common about how one in ten women was beaten by their husbands and got howls and guffaws in response. The next day an apology was sent to her, but the reaction still spoke volumes on how the message was received. Here we are 38 years later and I would like to think we have made some progress on this issue.
Here is the reality.
Last year, almost 1,000 more women were turned away from our abused women’s shelters because they were full. Those women are left to return to dangerous homes, or to the street. This is no laughing matter.
In Ottawa, 1,000 women become homeless every year because they can’t afford to pay the average rent in this city.
We think these are individual problems and don’t recognize the systemic nature of the issue. Until women have an equal voice at our decision-making tables across the board, we won’t see change. So yes, we have lots of work to do. But our voices are getting stronger and louder and we are gaining ground.
Here are some of the first step accomplishments we are working on at city hall.
Women and Gender Equity Strategy (WGES) Progress to Date:
- As Mayor Watson mentioned, we started holding public engagement with City staff and the community in Summer of 2019. That is when the City’s first Specialist for Women and Gender Equity, Sawsan Al-Refaei, joined the City to support the development and implementation of the Strategy and to support the Sponsors’ Group.
- WGES discussions engaged more than 70 community members and 50 City staff engaged in focused discussions, and more than 170 community members in Public Engagement Forum held on September 30th, 2019. More than 150 community members engaged through online platform Engage Ottawa.
- More than 150 community members engaged in 2SLGBTQ+ consultation held on January 13th, 2020. A report on findings will be launched soon.
- Early this year, a WGES Working Group of key community organizations, service providers, academia and allies began meeting in February 2020 to support the development process of WGES.
- Based on WGES public engagement findings, a draft vision, mission and guiding principles were drafted for WGES. These are currently being reviewed by Council Sponsors Group and WGES Working Group and will be presented to Council for consideration in 2020.
Women and Gender equity at Corporate Level
- A learning event entitled “A Gender Inclusive City” was held on December 9th to raise awareness on the 16-days Campaign against Gender Based Violence and commemorate the Montreal Massacre. It was attended by 65 staff.
- In November 2019, 266 City staff, management and community partners attended two educational events: one on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and another on Indigenous Human Trafficking held in February 2020.
- In December 2019, CSS Diversity and Inclusion Focus Group held a forum for 59 staff (42 of which are women) as a result of a priority commitment on diversity and inclusion. Focused discussions took place on the experiences of women and gender diverse persons in the City.
- A full-time Anti-Racism Specialist position is expected to join the City soon. The Anti-Racism Specialist will work across the Corporation and closely with Women and Gender Equity Specialist on barriers affecting racialized women.
- The City of Ottawa is committed to providing all employees, including women, with a work environment free from harassment. The Office of the City Clerk, in consultation with me, the Mayor and Community groups such as CAWI and OCTEVAW, is undertaking a review of the recruitment and hiring process for Councillors’ Assistants, including recent allegations of inappropriate behaviour in this area. The Office of the City Clerk will continue to seek the guidance of community groups and continue to collaborate with the Women and Gender Equity Strategy on issues related to the Strategy Priority of Safety.
- I am happy also to share that staff is applying an Equity and Inclusion Lens including a gender lens as part of the City’s Official Plan, so that the needs of women, men and gender diverse persons will be considered in the way Ottawa is designed and built in the future.
- For International Women’s Day, I celebrate women who work in the City, who comprise 39.9% of the City of Ottawa’s workforce representation across all departments and services, contributing to over 200 lines of business within the organization. Our Average Hire Rate for the past three years exceeds Market Availability with 45.5% of hires being women. We will be working under the Strategy to increase representation of the inter-sectional groups of women in the City’s workforce.
- I also look forward to bringing in young women to the City of Ottawa chambers for a model council session representing all wards to discuss some of the current issues of our municipality in their own voices. This will be a joint project with Equal Voice and I will have more information on that in the coming months. I believe it is important to give young women opportunities to speak up and to tell them that they can have a say on how things get done. After all that is the only way that real change in achieving equity for all can happen.
Have a great week,
Read my op-ed on International Women’s Day in the March 6th edition of the Ottawa Citizen:
In Ottawa and elsewhere, there’s still work ahead to get women into politics
I would like to note the launch of a new Ottawa Website in Honour of International Women’s Day.
FROttawaDW.ca recognizes local women whose achievements and contributions have enriched the quality of life for Ottawa’s citizens. Stifled by humility, these women’s tireless commitments often go unnoticed, undocumented and forgotten within a historical context. “A city’s geography ought to reflect its history” and the purpose of this site is to create a virtual public space that documents and recognizes these phenomenal women so that they too have a place in Ottawa’s history.
The site currently recognizes 40 outstanding and diverse honourees, but this is only the beginning. They are receiving nominations regularly and they will continue to add new Honourees to the site this year and in years to come. The diversity of the honourees at all levels has been outstanding and their stories inspiring, and at times, heart-breaking. Some have passed away but each in their own way has made significant contributions to making Ottawa a better place for all.