International Women’s Day: While sexism remains a problem, let’s celebrate the gains made by women in Canada

It’s International Women’s Day and in Canada, too, we are celebrating women and their achievements.
It’s International Women’s Day and in Canada, too, we are celebrating women and their achievements. iStock.

It’s International Women’s Day and in Canada, too, we are celebrating women and their achievements.

From brilliant authors like Margaret Atwood to Chief Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLachlin to astronaut and scientist Dr. Roberta Bondar, Canadian women have contributed greatly.

Though women have come a long way, unfortunately they still aren’t done fighting sexism.

CBC’s Marketplace recently reported about the issue of skimpy dress codes at several restaurant chains. Marketplace was told by female restaurant staffers that they felt pressured to dress in a revealing way, because if they don’t they risk losing shifts. In a difficult economy many employees don’t want to ruffle feathers with their employers and give in to these demands.

Isn’t this sex discrimination though? According to University of Ottawa Law Professor Joanne St. Lewis, it is. She told CBC News: "The male employees are doing exactly the same task as the female employees … And they do not need to sexualize their clothing.”

St. Lewis isn’t the only one criticizing this dress code. Today, in honour of International Women’s Day, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has called for an end to sexualized dress codes. OHRC Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane called on employers to avoid this practice, stating: “They send the message that an employee’s worth is tied to how they look. That’s not right, and it could violate the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Indeed, the code forbids discrimination based on sex and employers would be well advised to keep that in mind.

However, all is not gloom and doom. Women have won and are winning human rights victories in Canada against sex based discrimination.

A 2015 Ontario Human Rights Tribunal case, resulted in victory for a woman who was fired due to her pregnancy. The tribunal awarded her monetary damages and sent a message to employers that you cannot fire a woman just because she’s pregnant.

Still, it’s obvious that stereotypes about women persist in Canada not just in employment but even the legal system.

To see that, you only have to look at the Jian Ghomeshi trial, in which the women who accused him of sexual assault were raked over the coals by his lawyer during cross-examination. Why? Because they didn’t fit the mold of the ideal victim. There is an expectation that victims of sexual assault (most whom are women) behave a certain way and if they don’t then they are not believed.

See: Why the expectation of the “ideal victim” deters sexual assault victims from coming forward

So, while women have come a long way lady, they haven’t dug themselves out of the trenches quite yet.

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