This story is one segment of the Yukon News’ special International Women’s Day edition. Find it on newsstands March 8 and 9.
In 2023, we embrace equity.
That’s the national theme offered on International Women’s Day this year, after the World Economic Forum reported in July that we’re unlikely to see gender parity in our lifetime. According to the forum, women will be underrepresented at the leadership table, paid less than men and access fewer opportunities for another 132 years if we continue at our current pace of advancement.
The data study examined 146 countries and found that in 136 of them, women experience a 20 per cent disadvantage to men, at minimum. Most countries hovered between 20 per cent and 30 per cent, including Canada at 32 per cent and the U.S.A. at 31 per cent.
Afghanistan ranked last on the list, finding women to experience a 65 per cent disadvantage. Iceland took first place, where women only experience a 10 per cent disadvantage.
“We live in a world, nationally and globally, where women are still not equal to men,” said Sofia Ashley, executive director of the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre in Whitehorse.
Victoria Faulkner is a local network providing a safe space and catalogue of services for women in the Yukon. It’s also an activist and educational space committed to promoting women’s equity and well-being.
According to Ashley, women in the Yukon still face inequity and violence. COVID-19 has only exacerbated these issues, pushing caregivers to leave the workforce in droves as lockdowns dovetailed with the “shadow pandemic” of domestic violence.
“It’s mostly women who left their jobs to take care of their children. It’s mostly women in caregiving professions that have been, like, totally worked to the bone,” Ashley said.
The World Economic Forum found more than two million mothers left the workforce globally in 2020 when the pandemic closed schools and childcare facilities. In Canada that year, data showed women with children under the age of six were responsible for nearly 70 per cent of their household’s unpaid work, while men contributed less than 30 per cent.
“Women basically work two jobs now, instead of one, and are expected to and still make less pay than men,” Ashley said.
In the Yukon, factors contributing to gender-based violence have also worsened. As food and other necessities grow more expensive and housing more scarce, it also becomes more difficult for women to leave violent homes. Those same factors create economic stress in the household, ramping up violence.
“It’s easy to think that we’ve made progress … (but) we can’t forget the elephant in the room, which is the pandemic, which set women’s equality and equity back, like, decades,” Ashley said.
In 2022, the forum additionally found gaps in wealth (on average, women in Canada retired with 20% less wealth than men), leadership (women held 37 per cent of private sector leadership roles) and political representation (23 per cent of parliamentary seats in relevant countries).
On all fronts of inequity, from wealth to leadership, the root causes are inherently tangled with capitalism and colonialism, Ashley says. While strides have been made over the last century, they have mainly boosted white women without advancing society as a whole.
“We fought to equally participate in the system that men benefit from, instead of tearing it down so that nobody, even men, would continue to get hurt by it,” Ashley said.
“We need to burn down the system that is actually hurting all of us.”
On International Women’s Day, there are two tangible actions we can take to mark the day, depending on our relationship with the issues aforementioned: We can learn, or we can rest.
Learning on an individual level is the first step toward dismantling harmful systems, Ashley explained. To understand how systems cause harm, particularly if we’re not part of a marginalised population with first-hand experience, we need to read and listen.
A great place to start is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, which is available online with a quick web search. The action items address the legacy of colonialism and suggest policy changes that will dismantle systemic racism in Canada.
The Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre has also issued 16 calls to action for ending gender-based violence in the Yukon. The calls explain the Yukon’s extremely high rates of violence and provide remedying strategies. You can find those calls, with corresponding data and rationale, at endviolenceyukon.com.
For a longer read, 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act details the laws established in 1876 to assimilate First Nations people. The act created reserves; introduced residential schools; forbade languages and banned potlatches – essentially paving the way for cultural genocide over the next century. The book was written by B.C. hereditary chief Robert Joseph and is available at every Yukon library. Another way that non-Indigenous people can decolonize their mindset is to do a deep dive into their personal family history, Ashley suggested. It’s worth considering whose land you or your ancestors settled on.
The second action item is rest. As wages lag behind cost of living, the buying power of full-time employment is declining. At the same time, capitalism glorifies working as hard and long as we can. Under this system, we’re programmed to directly correlate our productivity with our self worth. For women who work double-time as employees, caregivers, activists and educators, the harms are exacerbated. Ashley suggests International Women’s Day is an opportunity to take a break. Following the lead of many other women’s organizations, Victoria Faulkner is closed on March 8.
“Rest is radical under capitalism,” Ashley said. “We rest as a radical act of resistance.”
Finding rest, support and community at Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre
The Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre in downtown Whitehorse is a safe space, first and foremost. It provides access to counsellors and a women’s advocate as well as programming for pregnant people and new parents.
A community meal is served on Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Fridays from 4 to 6 p.m. There are also weekly cultural activities, crafting circles and a yearly tax clinic.
There are also drop-in hours on weekdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., when the space is open to anyone who lives and identifies as a woman, or outside the gender binary, and their children. There’s free laundry, showers, wi-fi, phone and laptop access as well as coffee and tea, fruit and frozen meals. Chris Spencer, drop-in coordinator, says the multifaceted space is intended to encourage community, safety and belonging.
“What I enjoy most is being able to sit with people and have conversations, whether it’s about how to collect spruce pitch, all the way to decolonizing the world,” Spencer said, gesturing broadly. “The big questions and the small questions.”
Spencer said the centre is working on more community-led programming, and encourages ideas for workshops or gatherings.
“The idea is that this is everybody’s space,” Spencer said. “That’s important to us – making sure everyone has a voice and feels like they’re validated.”