GENDER DISCRIMINATION IN CANADA

What is the meaning of Gender Discrimination?
Gender discrimination means discrimination based on a person’s gender or sex, which more often affects girls and women.  Because of gender discrimination, girls and women do not have the same opportunities as boys and men for education, meaningful careers, political influence, and economic advancement.

Where does it happen?
Gender-based discrimination happens throughout the world.   Because of gender discrimination, women who perform the same tasks as men are often paid less and receive fewer benefits from their work.  Even in developed countries like  Canada, women earn only 70.4 percent of what men earn – a percentage lower today than in the 1990’s. [1]

Why does it happen?
The root cause is based in culture.  A society’s culture both shapes the way ‘things are done’ and explains why that is.  Culture defines who women and men are, what they do, and establishes the structure of the relationship between them.  Cultural explanations describe “women’s work” and “men’s work” in the home and community.  These explanations differ among societies and change over time.  Generally, women have less personal autonomy, fewer resources and less influence than men regarding decisions which affect and form their societies and their own lives.

Are there laws against gender discrimination?
Canada has laws opposing gender discrimination.  Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms states, “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

There are also several international agreements upheld by Canada, which guarantee gender equality.[2]

Gender equality means both men and women can exercise their rights and realize their full human potential, regardless of their gender.[3]

How does gender discrimination affect the Japanese Canadian community?
(Note: The Japanese Canadian community is defined here as community composed of Canadian born and immigrated Japanese Canadian citizens, Ijusha or immigrant Japanese, resident Japanese nationals, and Japanese visitors)

  • As immigrant women of colour, Ijusha women face higher unemployment and underemployment than Caucasian immigrant women.[4]
  • In Canadian and other western societies, “the portrayal of Asian women in mass culture embodies a number of stereotypes – petite, usually young, docile, ultra-feminine ideal some men seek and a hyper-sexualized innocence…” [5]  This stereotyping of Japanese and other Asian women as submissive to male authority, dependent and sexually available is racial discrimination.  In Canada, Ijusha women, without knowledge of the risks in developing cross cultural heterosexual social relationships, have been subjected to this form of racism and abuse;
  • Ijusha women who experience marital breakdown can lose legal status, and social and economic security.  An abusive spouse can use sponsorship as a means of keeping an Ijusha partner from leaving.  For an Ijusha spouse with children, being separated and without sponsorship means being ineligible or denied basic public services and protections such as education, social and health services;
  • Ijusha women experience the multiple challenges of gender and race discrimination, limitations in opportunity for employment and financial independence, and having a language barrier due to English being their second language.

Other Gender Based Challenges

What is sexual harassment?
Ijusha women have been subjected to work related sexual harassment.  Sexual harassment occurs when an employee is subjected to unwelcome comments or conduct of a sexual nature, either in the workplace or through a work relationship, which may lead to adverse job related consequences.   It is especially hard when immigrant women experience sexual harassment because they may not be aware sexual harassment is illegal, they may already feel isolated, insecure in their sense of self worth, and stressed due to adapting to a new culture and environment.  Victims need to know there are public services to address and stop sexual harassment.  

What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence victims come from all economic, and cultural groups.  Domestic violence means violent acts in a domestic relationship where one partner victimizes the other.  In most cases the victim is female and the abuser is a male partner.  The assault may be psychological, sexual or physical and is intended to control the victim partner through isolation, inflicting pain and inducing fear.  Physical assaults are accompanied by varying degrees of degrading psychological abuse, and may range from threats and beatings to homicide.  Domestic violence is usually a repeated pattern in the relationship.  Victims, including Ijusha women and other immigrants who are legally dependent upon Canadian spouses, may be trapped in a cycle of psychological abuse, fear, isolation, and social and economic pressures.  [6]

Is there a relationship between gender discrimination and homophobia?
Gender discrimination, homophobia and sexism are interconnected and affect the way people learn to behave and identify as girls and boys, women and men. What a society considers “masculine” and “feminine” is enforced through a hierarchical and fixed view of gender norms.   Gender discrimination usually results in women experiencing social inequality but it also occurs when people are targeted because they do not conform to gender norms related to their biological sex.  Stereotypes about people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered justify social exclusion of same sex couples, families with same sex parents and many others.

Homophobia is a range of negative attitudes and feelings towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and intersex people which denies their humanity, dignity and personhood.  Sexism is discrimination on the basis of sex, especially the oppression of women by men.

Homophobia and heterosexism exist when heterosexuality is assumed and other forms of sexual identification are actively suppressed and feared. A society is homophobic when it is structured so that heterosexuality is socially and institutionally reinforced.

Those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer (GLBTQ) are affected when transgressing gender norms either through a same-sex relationship, or through gender identity.  The term ‘queer’ is a word sometimes used by youth and other political activists which rejects identification based on sexual orientation terms.  In some instances, people who identify with a gender that does not reflect their biology may choose to undergo treatment so their biology reflects their gender identity. Despite Canada prohibiting discrimination based upon sexual orientation, trans-gendered and transsexual people still report experiencing a lack of protection, active persecution and exclusion.

Homophobia in school settings across Canada can lead to blatant and aggressive expressions of disdain or hatred toward gay and lesbian youth, use of homophobic slurs, physical violence, rejection, exclusion, suppression, and bullying online and in person. [7] Gay and lesbian teens may be at particularly high risk for suicide, depending on their communities and their own self esteem.[8]   Schools need to openly address and validate diversity in sexual orientations and gender identity rather than perpetuating a code of silence.

We are all victims of rigid gender norms which still influence Canadian society.  To counteract homophobia in Canada, we need to dialogue, affirm and encourage diversity, build bridges and support a climate of fairness and belonging for all.

Same-sex marriage in Canada
Between 2002 and 2005, courts in several provinces and one territory in Canada ruled that restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples constitutes a form of discrimination that is prohibited by Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and struck down the federal definition, requiring that those jurisdictions register same sex marriages.  The first ruling required the federal government to draft legislation recognizing same-sex marriage, but later rulings brought the new definition into effect immediately in the jurisdictions concerned. Canadian jurisdictions thereby became the third in the world to allow same-sex marriage, after the Netherlands and Belgium.   The bill was passed by Parliament in July 2005 making Canada the fourth country to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, and the first to do so without a residency requirement.[9]



[1] data released by Statistics Canada, December, 2010

[2]For example, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human  Rights, the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

[3] From Canadian International Development Agency publication on Gender Equality

[4] From Wiebe, K.(1985)Violence Against Immigrant Women and Children: an Overview for Community Workers.  Vancouver: Women Against Violence Against Women/Rape Crisis Centre Society

[5] Race and Gender Based Stereotyping of Asian Women – Pointing at Western society’s “elephant  in the room” by Cheryl Caballero in ricepaper 15.2

[6] From BC Institute Against Family Violence (2000) Civil Legal Rights of Abused Women: A transformative Public Legal Education Project Vancouver: BC Institute Against Family Violence – Projects

[7] Youth speak up about Homophobia and Transphobia in Canadian Schools;Phase One Report: (March 2009)

[8] Canadian Mental Health Pamphlet, “Reflections on Youth Suicide”

[9] From Wikipedia, LGBT Rights in Canada

National Association of Japanese Canadians, 180 McPhillips Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3E 2J9

Phone: (204) 943-2910 Fax: (888) 515-3192 Email: national@najc.ca

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