QUEEN'S PARK - MPP Peggy Sattler (London West) delivered the following statement in recognition of Gender Equality Week:
"Since 2018, the fourth week of September has been recognized in Canada as Gender Equality Week, a time to celebrate progress and recommit to reducing barriers that prevent women and gender-diverse people from full participation and inclusion.
For college and university students in Ontario, this week is a critical time. Data shows a significant increase in sexual violence on campus during the first six weeks of a new academic year, rooted in the pervasive rape culture that results in disgusting “daughter drop off” and similar banners during orientation week. The more we can do to raise awareness of the meaning of consent and the accountability that it involves, the better we can protect young people from the devastating, lifelong impacts of sexual violence. Unfortunately, this government has refused to pass Bill 18, the NDP bill to formally declare the third week of September as Consent Awareness Week, which would be an important step forward in creating a future for women and gender-diverse people free from the trauma of sexual violence.
Of course, Speaker, sexual violence does not just occur on campus. It is a reality for women across this province. The Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres reports an 18% increase in sexual assaults every year since 2016, with 81% of sexual assault centres experiencing an increase in crisis-line calls in the last year alone. According to the most recent femicide report from OAITH, there have been 42 femicides—the most deadly form of sexual violence—in the last nine months. Of note, of the four femicides recorded in August, three were Indigenous, revealing once again the over-representation of Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people within Ontario femicide data. While they account for 12% of femicide victims, they make up only 3% of Ontario’s population.
Speaker, the urgency has never been greater. Yet rape crisis centres, sexual assault centres and women’s shelters remain starved by this government for the funding they need to support women and families dealing with violence and to compensate their workers fairly. The calls for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls have yet to be implemented by this government. The government is ignoring the first of the Renfrew coroner’s inquest’s 86 recommendations to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic in Ontario, even as 47 Ontario municipalities are showing leadership by issuing such a declaration. And finally, the risk of harm faced by gender-diverse Ontarians, especially vulnerable trans students, has been increased by this government through their stoking of fear about indoctrination in schools.
Achieving gender equality involves more than ending gender-based violence, however. It also requires removing barriers to the participation of women and gender-diverse people in the workplace. Despite some progress, women in Ontario still earn far less than the average salaries of male workers, especially if they are racialized, Indigenous, 2SLGBTQIA+ or disabled. As costs of living soar, more and more Ontario women are struggling to afford the basic essentials to support themselves and their families.
As we saw during the pandemic, Ontario’s economy and our society have been built on women’s unpaid, underpaid and undervalued care work. Women make up 80% of typically low-paid voluntary sector workers, and when COVID hit, it was women in front-line, female-dominated jobs like nursing, child care, PSWs, education, crisis counselling and more who held us together. Most of these are public sector jobs, where wages have been suppressed by this government since 2019, and while the courts have ruled on the unconstitutionality of Bill 124, this government is showing how little they value or respect these workers by appealing the court decision.
Speaker, achieving gender equality means taking real action to end gender-based violence in Ontario. It means investing in strong public services and paying the wages and benefits that public sector workers deserve. It means providing all workers with paid sick days. It means doubling social assistance rates that force people with disabilities, especially women, to live in legislated poverty. These are the actions that will truly move Ontario forward."