A gender-equal world is healthier, wealthier and more prosperous. Yet 25 years since the United Nations’ landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights and gender equality – no country has fully met its commitments to gender equality. Coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, which is exacerbating inequalities for girls and women and threatening to unravel decades of progress toward gender equality, meeting and protecting the unique needs of all girls and women is more urgent than ever before.

It’s against this backdrop that Women Deliver and Focus 2030 conducted a first-of-its-kind multi-national survey to capture public opinions and expectations about gender equality in 17 countries, including Canada. These 17 countries include half of the world’s population and more than half of the world’s women.

The data reveal that globally (80 per cent) and in Canada (76 per cent) the majority support gender equality and want governments to do more to promote gender equality. This and other survey findings, detailed in our report Citizens Call for a Gender-Equal World: A Roadmap for Action, provide information about what most want to see and spotlight where leaders and decision-makers can have the most resounding impact based on the survey data.

These ground-breaking public opinion data come at a critical time. Later this year, the Generation Equality Forum will offer an opportunity for world leaders in government, private sector and civil society to commit to bold, specific actions that will advance gender equality around the world. Co-hosted by UN Women and the governments of France and Mexico, the forum will be a chance to galvanize political and financial commitments to protect and advance gender equality. Canada will play a vital role in the forum as the leader of a multi-stakeholder action coalition on feminist movements and leadership, a key theme of the Forum.

Canada has a longstanding commitment to gender equality at home and abroad. The country’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, adopted in 2017, broke new ground and now serves as a model for other countries. Canada has also proven adept in implementing gender-sensitive analysis and budgeting, and national leaders have championed the causes of women and girls in high-level forums such as the 2019 Canadian-led G7.

Despite Canada’s impressive support for girls and women at home and abroad, the survey findings reveal that more than half (53 per cent) of Canadian respondents want their government to do more to promote gender equality at homepolitically, economically and socially.

The survey finds that respondents both in Canada and around the world strongly support feminist movements and leadership. Top policy priorities for respondents include a call for governments to “support women’s political leadership and participation” and to “achieve equal representation in politics.” The support for women’s representation extends to the private sector, with respondents globally and in Canada prioritizing gender parity on boards of companies. Canada must support women’s participation in decision-making bodies in the political and economic spheres. For example, there should be gender quotas introduced for boards and women’s movements should be funded.

When it comes to policies related to the economy, the top priority for respondents in Canada is “equal pay for women and men.” Although Canada’s laws grant women the same rights as men to participate in the economy, gender gaps persist. Women earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by men. The Government of Canada must close the persistent gender gaps in the economy by ensuring legislation on equal pay.

Further, the Government of Canada must recognize the additional burden COVID-19 has put on women and apply a gender-lens to all aspects of COVID-19 response and recovery. In Canada, 41 per cent of women surveyed report that their time doing household work has increased during the pandemic (compared to 32 per cent among men), while 19 per cent of women said they spend more time taking care of others. One quarter of young women (aged 18-24) report that they’ve had their time spent doing paid work reduced due to the pandemic. And we’ve seen this play out in real time: More than 20,000 Canadian women dropped out of the workforce between February and October of 2020.

As COVID-19 disrupts access to life-saving sexual and reproductive health services access around the world, the demand for universal access to contraception and other sexual health services is more dire than ever before. In Canada, respondents stress the importance of “increasing access to sexual health services” and of “increasing access to contraception and family planning options.” Canada must work to ensure this, regardless of where you live.

Finally, and most striking of all, is the degree to which women in Canada feel at risk of gender-based violence. Fifty-eight per cent of women – and 79 per cent of women aged 18 to 24 – report that they feel at risk of assault or harassment. The most common location for this fear is in public spaces (42 per cent), and one-in-five young women feel this risk in their own homes. The Government of Canada must put in place a fully funded, intersectional, national action plan to end violence against women.

Canada’s proven leadership on gender equality is needed now more than ever. And the Generation Equality Forum is a critical step: Over 61 per cent of global respondents feel that the forum is an opportune time to increase funding for gender equality, both domestically and internationally. Canada must commit to sustained official development assistance dedicated to gender equality, with a particular focus on funding for women’s movements and women-focused civil society organizations.

Public opinion surveys are powerful tools because they showcase citizen demand and bring forward the voices of people who are affected by government decisions. They also hold decision-makers accountable. What these results make clear is that citizens are calling for gender equality in Canada and around the world.

Methodology: The survey was carried out through an online poll in 17 countries between July 24, 2020 and August 4, 2020 and conducted by the polling institute Deltapoll (Australia, Argentina, Canada, Colombia, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand, China, South Africa, Switzerland, Tunisia, and the United States) in primary local languages, with 1,000 respondents in each country. The countries account for 50 per cent of the world population, including 53 per cent of adult women (aged 18 and over) and 59 per cent of the world’s GDP. Nine are high-income countries, five are upper-middle-income countries and three are lower-middle-income countries. The raw data were weighted by gender, age and region, plus chosen political party from the last national election. External factors may affect the sampling, such as willingness to take the survey, access to the internet and COVID-19 lockdowns.

The survey gathered data on race and ethnicity and the report endeavors to highlight the correlation between race/ethnicity and country-level survey responses. However, a complete comparative analysis across 17 countries is not feasible as the race/ ethnicity categories, which are derived from national census data, vary country by country.

Photo: The International Woman’s Day march in Montreal, on March 8, 2020. Shutterstock/By Maria A. Rodriguez

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Kathleen Sherwin is interim president and CEO of Women Deliver.
Divya Mathew is the senior manager, of research, policy and advocacy at Women Deliver.

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