Last week, Vancouver was alive with energy and enthusiasm from people who have dedicated their lives to advancing the rights and wellbeing of women and girls all over the world.
They were attending Women Deliver, the world’s largest conference on gender equity. Inspired by the gathering was Nutsamaht, a pre-conference on the rights and wellness of Indigenous women and girls, and Feminists Deliver, a grassroots collaboration of B.C.-based organizations. I was honoured to be invited to join in the conferences’ events and discuss issues facing women.
Women Deliver brought together over 8,500 participants from 160 countries around the world, including Her Excellency Sahle Work-Zewde, President of Ethiopia, Dr. Alaa Murabit, UN High-Commissioner, and Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and one of my personal heroes.
My upbringing had a profound impact on my relationship to gender equality. Having been raised by a single mother and my sister, women and feminists shaped my perspective from an early age and continue to drive my decisions as the leader of this government. As an ally in this struggle, I believe my job is to listen and to make sure women’s voices inform our work every single day.
Our government is working hard to make life better for women and girls. When we came into office, I created a gender-balanced cabinet and appointed B.C.’s first Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity, Mitzi Dean. We’ve also implemented gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) to make sure women’s voices and experiences are heard and included when we build our budgets, policies and programs.
Two years later, our government’s choices are starting to pay off and we’re seeing systemic changes. Nearly 50% of public board seats are now held by women – up from 41%. By the end of 2019, all public schools around B.C. will be required to provide free menstrual products for students in school washrooms. And we’ve made the largest investment in affordable housing in B.C.’s history, which includes 1,500 new transition homes for women and children affected by domestic violence and sexual assault.
Women are the majority of minimum-wage earners in B.C. To help close the pay gap and make sure everyone can afford basic necessities, we’re raising the minimum wage to $15.20 per hour by 2021 and we’ve launched B.C.’s first-ever Poverty Reduction Strategy, with the goal of reducing the province’s poverty rate by 25% and child poverty by 50% in the next five years.
Too many parents in B.C., especially mothers, are struggling to find affordable child care. We’ve set B.C. on the path to universal child care, with $10/day prototype sites around the province, and the Affordable Child Care Benefit, which is already saving parents up to $15,000 per year, per child. Earlier this year, we announced the Child Opportunity Benefit, coming in October 2020, which will save parents up to $1,600 per year for one child, $2,600 per year for two children and as much as $3,400 per year for three children.
Last week was inspiring, and also difficult. The final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was on many peoples’ minds, as well as the immense courage of the survivors and families who have brought us to this moment. This report brings to the forefront the magnitude of the gendered impacts of colonial violence, one so severe the inquiry has called it a ‘Canadian genocide.’ Our government is committed to creating a path forward to end the disproportionate levels of racialized, sexualized and systemic violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit peoples.
I am proud of what we have accomplished and yet, I know there is still much more to do to advance gender equality in B.C. I was inspired by the conferences last week and honoured to stand next to leaders who are fighting for gender equality all over the world, every single day. It gave me the opportunity to listen, learn and reflect and has strengthened my commitment to work with women to break systemic barriers and build a better, more equitable, B.C. for everyone.
John Horgan is the Premier of British Columbia.