March 5, 2010
FREDERICTON (CNB) - The following message is issued by Gordon L. Porter, chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission, in recognition of International Women's Day, Monday, March 8:
March 8 is International Women's Day. It is a time for Canadians to celebrate the progress made toward women's equality and full participation, to reflect on the remaining challenges and barriers, and to consider future steps to achieving equality for all women.
The Canadian theme for this year, Strong Women, Strong Canada, Strong World, is aimed at encouraging more women and girls to strive for and attain leadership roles. This is not just about women being able to reach their full potential and fulfil their dreams. It is also important for New Brunswick as a whole, as we all benefit when women of all backgrounds can fully participate in our economic, social and democratic life.
Women have made a lot of progress over the last several decades, and this is reflected in the history of the Human Rights Act. It may come as a surprise that it was only in 1971 that the act was amended to prohibit sex discrimination. It was a major advance. Before then, it was legal in New Brunswick for women to be refused employment.
It was only in the early 1980s that sexual harassment was recognized as a form of sex discrimination, and it was in 1992 that the Human Rights Act was amended to explicitly prohibit pregnancy discrimination.
Today, sex discrimination and sexual harassment complaints represent about 10 per cent of the complaints filed with human rights commission, but for many years in the past they were the most common complaints investigated.
Despite the progress that women have made, several important issues remain. One of them is the persistent wage gap between men and women, which stood at 14 per cent in 2008. The government launched the Five Year Wage Gap Action Plan 2005-2010 in 2005, but the Pay Equity Coalition argues that a voluntary approach is ineffective.
While equal pay complaints can be filed under the current Human Rights Act, the Pay Equity Coalition is asking for pay equity legislation for the private sector. The Pay Equity Act adopted in 2009 applies only to the public service. The human rights commission held a forum last December in Fredericton to foster an informed debate about pay equity, and a similar forum is planned for Edmundston on March 15.
The advances we have seen in women's equality came about through the efforts of many people, and in particular of women who identified the issues and steadfastly kept them at the forefront.
As we celebrate International Women's Day this year, I invite New Brunswickers to celebrate the progress that has been made and the people who made it possible, and to continue to work to overcome the remaining gaps and barriers to full equality.