For decades, organizations and individuals have worked diligently to increase awareness of women’s rights and bring issues of parity to the forefront. With various movements happening around the world, it is clear that a renewed focus on gender issues has emerged.
Just this week, the Federal Government released their first budget focused on gender equality. They used a gender based analysis approach in building the budget to ensure that our country’s practices and policies are inclusive. They have also committed to collect data in order to measure results and assess the impact this and future budgets will have on the goal of greater equality.
I am proud of the Federal Government’s efforts to advance gender parity and I have been thinking a lot about our local approach to gender issues. As a veteran Councillor and one of only four women on City Council, I know we need a stronger and more sustained focus on women’s issues in our city.
Internally we need to make wholesale changes. To do this successfully, we need to embed gender forward thinking into our bureaucracy. We need to look at our budgeting practices, our HR and hiring practices, our training and recruitment practices, our communications strategies and our day-to-day functions. We also need to put a sharper focus on gender related issues when it comes to appointments to Boards and Commissions.
That is why at City Council this week, I put forward a Notice of Motion recommending that Council consider creating a Special Liaison for Women’s Issues and a Women’s Bureau as part of the 2019 Governance update. The role of the Women’s Bureau would be to apply a gender equality lens to new and existing city policies and programs in order to remove the systemic and historical barriers for women in our city. A gender focused approach would ensure that we are creating policy that is inclusive and responsive to the varying needs of all people in our communities.
But why is this so important? This is not exclusively a women’s issue. There are many examples of how policy created with a gender lens has resulted in improved programs and services for everyone. Sweden, for example, applied a gender lens to assist in efficiently prioritizing snow removal. A service, that would not fall into the typical issues associated with women. This example shows how broadly a gender lens could be applied and how wide spread the benefits could be for Ottawa residents.
I recognize that new initiatives often trigger concerns over increased spending and ballooning bureaucracies. However, this is not intended to be a resource heavy initiative. We know that there are many amazing people that work for the city and the goal will be to harness as much existing capacity as possible. Having said that, expertise in this field will be required. Determining the appropriate structure will be an important task in 2019.
The United Nations theme for International Women’s Day this year is ‘Time is Now’. In my opinion, there is no better time than now to advance gender equality in our city.