Agenda to improve women’s lives finding success: Tiffany Gooch

Enterprise consultant Tiffany Gooch’s column originally appeared in The Toronto Star on June 4, 2017. 

We’ve seen great waves of progress on women’s issues in Ontario and Canada, and progress intensifies as we make more room at the table for diverse perspectives. Eliminating barriers for women and women of colour entering politics is an important step in the process.

We have a long road ahead. Transformational change is needed to address sexual harassment and assault within political spaces. The instinct to protect powerful men over girls and women navigating the Canadian political arena remains too prevalent.

While it has been thrilling to see the government champion initiatives aimed at improving economic outcomes and leadership opportunities for women, including the Ontario Securities Commission’s comply or explain rules; greater attention is needed to consider and eliminate the barriers to economic success faced by women of colour in particular.

To the Canadian intersectional feminists fighting for the freedom and safety of women everywhere: continue the good fight.

In the words of Maya Angelou, “Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”

Important work is underway. This week the Ontario government announced a law to create safe access zones around abortion clinics, allowing women to access facilities free of harassment. Following the lead of three other provinces with similar rules in place, violators could be fined or face prison.

This move comes as the latest addition to an agenda focused on the protection and prosperity of women and girls set by Canadian women’s rights activists, and prioritized by Premier Kathleen Wynne.

While the U.S. elected a president who publicly condoned sexual harassment and whose administration is clawing back on hard fought women’s rights, the premier of Ontario has consistently sought opportunities to improve the lives of women and girls.

Much of the work began in March of 2015 when the Ontario government launched, It’s Never OK: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment. The plan infused an unprecedented $41 million over three years into services for victims of sexual assault, campaigns and programs aimed to prevent sexual assault and harassment in workplaces and on campuses, and even targeted funding to arts programs who help sexual assault survivors heal from their trauma and provide awareness to communities.

It will be nearly impossible to measure the positive impact of the #WhoWillYouHelp and #ItsNeverOk campaigns and award-winning ads that were launched as a part of the action plan. The ads garnered millions of views worldwide and seek to include bystanders in the fight against sexual harassment and violence against women.

What’s important is that Wynne didn’t leave this progress to the minister of the status of women alone. The premier looked for opportunities in nearly every portfolio to advance women’s issues.

As a part of the highly controversial but much needed updates to the sexual education curriculum, the premier partnered with the minister of education to champion the inclusion of consent.

In September 2016, Wynne worked alongside the attorney general to change the Residential Tenancies Act, allowing tenants attempting to escape domestic or sexual violence to break a lease. This came just months after piloting a program providing free legal advice to survivors of sexual assault.

Wynne stood at the forefront of the call for a national public inquiry into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls — ahead of federal leadership on the crisis. Her team collaborated on long-term strategic solutions through the Joint Working Group on Violence Against Aboriginal Women.

Working alongside the minister of health, the premier launched an Ontario Fertility Program in 2015 funding in vitro fertilization. When pursued privately, the procedure can cost more than $10,000, leaving it out of reach of many Ontario families looking to grow while experiencing infertility. In its first year the program has already been accessed by more than 5,000 families.

Just this week the province included a provision within Bill 68, The Modernizing Ontario’s Municipal Legislation Act, requiring municipalities and school boards to formalize policy extending and expanding parental leave for councillors and school board trustees.

Having seen first hand, and far too many times, the pain inflicted on women and girls through sexual violence and harassment, I offer kudos to the collective women’s movement in Ontario; you are catalysts for much needed change. Keep pushing. And let’s work proactively to ensure everyone is lifted along the way.

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