IWD 2023: Every Woman Counts in Politics and Education

By Dalia Sible, Avery Fry, Jed Salibay and Alexandra Law

International Women’s Day IWD is globally celebrated on March 8 to recognize women’s achievements, resilience, and value. Every Woman Counts is Canada’s theme for International Women’s Day 2023, meaning women of all ages and backgrounds have a place in Canadian society. But the road to inclusion is still paved with obstacles. Although Canadian women have achieved significant gains in terms of their rights over the years, they still face some challenges, especially in the spheres of education and politics.

       According to a report published by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, over the past three decades, Canada has seen a significant increase in the number of women faculty members. Compared with men, women are more likely to attend postsecondary education and achieve better academic results. However, universities are making slow progress in achieving equity in faculty appointments and salary levels.

The report also says that women still have to face cultural and structural barriers that men do not have to deal with.

 “In architecture, it’s about 50-50 male and female architecture students, but then when you look at the profession, it’s really male-dominated,” said Nadine Valcin, professor in the Bachelor of Film and TV at Sheridan College.

Professor Nadine Valcin

“Part of the reason is that after graduation either they realize they don’t want to do this or it’s an industry that requires people to work really long hours. So, for women, especially women who want to have children, it’s a very difficult field to work in… So there’s always this dilemma between what you hope that you’re going to do and then the professional environment that you get to work in,” said Valcin.

On a question about the challenges facing women in academia, Valcin said “the biggest challenge is finding a way to teach the curriculum in a way that kind of rectifies the male dominance in the profession.”

Professor Nadin Valcin’s message to female students at Sheridan on IWD is: “You need to be bold. You need to do things that you didn’t think you could do… You always need to be a little uncomfortable… pushing the boundaries…if you’re doing something creative, it’s always uncomfortable.”

       The importance of gender equality in education also applies to politics. Women’s political participation is essential for democracy because it promotes equity, increases responsiveness to citizen demands, and creates a more sustainable future.

Filomena Tassi, the minister responsible for the federal economic development agency for southern Ontario said that the gender-balanced cabinet of the federal government helped achieve many gains in pay equity legislation, child care affordability, women’s labour force participation and many others.

Minister Filomena Tassi 

“I think that women need women to be in the role, to model the role in order for them to see themselves. So, they have to see it to make it happen,” said Tassi.

The growing importance of women’s representation in the political process has brought many challenges for women to overcome. After the 2021 federal election, women made up [only] 30% of members of Parliament (MPs), according to Statistics Canada.

“Are we there yet? No. But are we on the path to getting there? Yes, we are. But we have to continue to work at it,” she said.

“We want to see in Parliament gender parity, diverse representation, underrepresented groups…We all need to ensure that Parliament looks like Canada…So there’s more work to be done. But that is a work in progress,” said Tassi.

Minister Tassi said that among the challenges facing women’s participation in political life are the financial resources for their campaigns, and the balance between politics and home obligations. Also, the mudslinging, and personal attacks they face on social media.

“It goes beyond just gender bias [it] goes on into political opportunism,” said Tassi.

Measures need to be implemented to guarantee more protection at all levels. This will ensure that women feel safe, empowered, motivated and excited about a career in politics, according to Tassi.

Minister Filomena Tassi’s message to female students at Sheridan on IWD is: “Keep all doors open. You don’t know where your path is going to lead. Don’t put anything in the way to close those doors. Make smart decisions. Be confident in yourself. And when you say to yourself why me? You say, why not me?