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Alisha Rao and Amal Attar-Guzman: From making strides in STEM to the PWHL, the future is bright for Canadian women

Commentary

Today is International Women’s Day, where there will be much commentary on the status of women in our society. Undoubtedly, much of the focus will be on the gender-related challenges that women still face. And rightfully so. 

While it is important to reflect on these obstacles, this year, we also want to focus on efforts that seek to proactively improve women’s lives, particularly here in Canada. 

Here are some people we would like to draw attention to today. 

Public policy

On matters of public policy, readers should keep an eye out for two Senate bills currently in their first reading stage. 

S-263, introduced by Conservative Senator Salma Ataullahjan, aims to formally introduce a national strategy to combat human trafficking. Canada is, unfortunately, a source, destination, and transit country of human trafficking, primarily in sexual exploitation and forced labour. According to Statistics Canada, in 2022, 94 percent of police-reported human trafficking incidents involved women and girls. Additionally, Indigenous women and girls, migrants and new immigrants, LGBT folks, and children in the foster care system are especially at risk. 

Most troubling, 91 percent of victims were trafficked by someone they knew and 34 percent were trafficked by an intimate partner, according to Statistics Canada.  

The second bill making its way through Parliament looks to combat the latter case. S-249, introduced by Conservative Senator Fabian Manning, aims to formally introduce a national strategy to combat intimate partner violence. This bill is coming at the right time. In 2022, almost eight in 10 (78 percent) of victims of intimate partner violence reported to the police were women and girls. Last month, experts rang the alarm saying that it is an “epidemic” here in Canada. So, the Senate bill rightly calls for the minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth to “prepare a report setting out [a] national strategy” to combat the issue head-on. 

Business 

The world of business is not an easy path to endeavour for anyone, let alone women. Beyond any moral case, women’s full and free participation in the economy makes fiscal sense. Studies have shown that by advancing gender equality, Canada’s economy could add up to $150 billion in GDP. Despite these lost socioeconomic opportunities, Canada is still a global leader of women in business, and we have seen great progress made by Canadian female entrepreneurs and business leaders. 

One sterling example is Ami Shah, the co-founder of Peekapak Inc., an educational technology platform that enables educators teaching from pre-kindergarten to grade 12 to implement social-emotional learning (SEL) skills. This is done through game-based learning and evidence-based lessons. Educators can review reports on student’s progress and emotions, which allows them to be proactive in their students’ mental health. Gratitude, self-regulation, compassion, and respect are emphasized as a part of the learning process for growing children. Shah has been recognized as a Compass Rose Entrepreneur.

Not only is this a viable business venture, but it also serves a necessary role in childhood development and curbing mental health challenges.

STEM

Women in STEM face similar challenges to those in business. Numbers show that while 34 percent of Canadians with a STEM degree are women, they only make up 23 percent of those working in science and technology. Like in business, Canada is leaving valuable fruit hanging on the tree, as scientific innovation and progress are stunted by not maximizing women’s potential in the field. A 2022 study’s findings “reveal [that] gender and teamwork synergies…correlate with scientific discoveries,” and thus innovation and progress. 

While there is a small margin of women in STEM, the ones who are there are still making waves, especially one in particular. 

Take the case of Dr. Ellen Kenchington, a benthic ecologist based in Nova Scotia working at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography. Her work focuses on the organisms that live on the seafloor. She researches the relationship between the structure of sediment and seabed to understand how these organisms are distributed in oceans. Importantly, her scientific knowledge contributes to how we can monitor the impacts of climate change and better protect our oceans.

Kenchington previously served on the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea Scientific Committee (ICES) and was recently honoured with the ICES Outstanding Achievement Award for her work. 

Sports

Now, we can’t celebrate women’s advancement without mentioning Canada’s favourite pastime: hockey. 

On New Year’s Day, the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PHWL) officially premiered at Toronto’s Maple Leafs Gardens where it held its first game: New York versus Toronto. 

Billie Jean King, an infamous tennis player who won the Battle of the Sexes tennis match and is now a co-founder of the PWHL, dropped the first puck in the league’s history: 

When the all-female hockey league was initially announced, there were naysayers claiming there wouldn’t be any interest and that “it was bound to fail.” If the initial buzz is any indication, they will be proven decisively wrong. The first-ever game was played in front of a sold-out crowd of 2,537 attendees. Many young girls watched in awe, screaming their support in the stands. 

While New York beat Toronto 4-0, it was Canadian hockey player Ella Shelton, fourth draft pick for New York, who scored the first-ever PWHL goal. Fingers crossed it will soon become a Canada Heritage Minute. 

Social media and arts 

Canadian artists, actors, singers, filmmakers, and writers have always been powerhouses in North America’s globally dominant entertainment industry, and Canadian women are no exception. Nowadays, though, we can add content creators to that list of luminary influencers. Model and TikToker Willow Allen is just one of many up-and-comers who are bridging gaps. 

An Inuvialuit model from the town of Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, Allen has made major strides in the last year, building her influence and integrating her culture into her content creation. In 2022, she was featured in the Accelerator for Indigenous Creators TikTok program, which helps creators extend their social media reach and connect with fellow Indigenous creators. Her content focuses on bringing light to Indigenous culture and issues for a wider audience, including the history of Inuit tattoos and social work vacancies across Northern Canada. Her audience is currently 775K TikTok followers and counting, 

Now embarking on the journey of motherhood, Allen communicates how, in becoming a mother, she incorporates land-based teaching into her everyday life and imagines how her newborn son will carry on the cultural lessons that she learned, as he grows up. 


The folks listed here are only just a small portion of many who are committed to not only improving the lives of women but also to their communities and the country as a whole. They are working towards building a Canada where women are not only secure but also can thrive and be triumphant. 

They show that despite the complex, gender-based challenges ahead of us, instead of cowering, we can confront them, persevere, and make conditions better for future generations of women. 

Mike Ramsay: Divisive DEI ideology is harming our students. It’s time to ditch it

Commentary

Late last month, the public learned that the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) through its Equity, Anti-Racism & Anti-Oppression Department issued a teaching guide claiming the Canadian education system is “colonialist” and designed to uphold the dominant white culture. The document, entitled “Facilitating Critical Conversations,” specifies that “education is a colonial structure that centres whiteness and Eurocentricity and therefore it must be actively decolonized,” and “schooling in North America is inherently designed for the benefit of the dominant culture (i.e., white, middle-upper class, male, Christian, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, neurotypical, etc.)”. It adds that, “race matters—it is a visible and dominant identity factor determining people’s social, political, economic, and cultural experiences.”

While the school board has since temporarily removed the guide pending review after the Ontario Ministry of Education called it divisive, it is important that this thinking which has captured our school systems not be ignored. 

That this handbook was actually produced and distributed by the TDSB did not come as a shock to me, because, in my view, it is representative of what is taking place at other school boards right across Ontario. A reasonable question to ask is how all of this came about.

Having served as a trustee for 24 years, I would suggest it emerged because of the work of frontline activists who truly believe in their cause and that the system is stacked against racialized students. However, many others in leadership positions, who have other motives, simply see this as an opportunity to enrich themselves. They did this by pretending to address the activists’ perception of the issues.

As a Black trustee and past chair of a large school board (WRDSB), I often wondered what good could come from paying  DEI consultants upwards of $500.00 an hour to teach kids that if they are white the successes they experience are not due to personal effort. Meanwhile, racialized students are being taught that despite personal effort, their chances of success are diminished because society is racist and therefore biased against them.

The fact is that we have both white and racialized kids who are doing well academically. Conversely, we have white and racialized kids who are not doing so well. What I have found as a member of my board’s discipline committee is that the kids (from all backgrounds) who are not doing well usually have other issues that are at play, including, but not limited to significant behavioural issues that are impacting their ability to learn. However, you can’t tell this to the proponents of DEI, who have been busy organizing events to celebrate and take credit for the academic success of racialized students who I believe were, for the most part, never in danger of failing school in the first place. The credit should go to the parents and caregivers who worked and continue to work hard to encourage and support their children.

Thankfully, with the passing of each day, more and more people are beginning to question the need for school initiatives that are fixated on identity politics. They are coming to realize that certain aspects of DEI instruction can actually lead to greater prejudice and even harm, as highlighted in a recent study released by the Aristotle Foundation and authored by Professor David Haskell. 

Haskell’s report shows that DEI related to “anti-racism” education and its promotion of “white privilege” doesn’t make participants more sympathetic to disadvantaged Black people as DEI trainers claim, and can in fact make them more hostile toward poor white people.  

As he elaborates, “Teaching students about white privilege, a core component of the DEI curriculum, does not make them feel more compassion toward poor people of colour but can reduce sympathy [and] increase blame…for White people struggling with poverty.”

In light of Haskell’s overwhelming evidence, I feel school boards should be required to justify the expense and existence of DEI in their organizations. Moreover, if it is doing harm as his research shows, do we not have an obligation to use legislation to stop the practice immediately in our classrooms?

I would say we do. And, that is why I agree wholeheartedly with parent Liz Galvin who recently told the Halton District School Board: “Trustees, when your equity and inclusion policies are used to generate administrative procedures by un-elected DEI proponents that contradict the aims and prescribed goals of said policy, then you have an obligation to insist that they be scrutinized, amended and or removed.” 

It seems straightforward, but the practice will not stop if it is left solely to the discretion of the Ontario NDP supporting majority which dominates most school boards.

This is where the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Doug Ford comes in. Even though his government has made it clear through their 2023 Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act (Bill 98) that they want boards to be dead focused on tangible measurable learning achievement,   rather than on faddish so-called “social justice” experiments, boards continue to double down on these DEI initiatives. I don’t know if the government is tiptoeing around the issue out of fear that the far-Left radicals entrenched in our education system will attack them. More and more parents and education workers from all backgrounds across our province are paying closer and closer attention to the damage being done. It is time for the Ford government to respond firmly and issue clear directives to boards to end these divisive practices.