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Women of Canada respond to the government's question: How to define Women?

When the Government of Canada asked for public input to its review of the Employee Equity Act, Canadian women wrote in to tell them what they thought of the government’s idea to “modernize the definition” of what we are.

In the last issue of Gender Dissent, we shared the response from Canadian Women’s Sex-Based Rights (caWsbar) to the Government of Canada’s public consultation regarding its plans to modernize the Employment Equity Act (EEA). The aim of the EEA is to remove systemic barriers in federally regulated workspaces for individuals in four designated groups:

· women · Indigenous peoples · persons with disabilities, and · members of visible minorities

The government asked its citizens:

Should the Employment Equity Act redefine and/or reflect the modern understandings of the current designated groups (for example, different sub-groups within the larger group) and consider adding more groups?

Several Canadian women shared with Gender Dissent their personal responses to the public consultation with specific focus on the government’s intention to formalize a definition for “women.” Here are some of our favourite excerpts.

From Louise Côté-Atwell:

How is equity achieved if members of one designated group can self-identify into another designated group for which the barriers are not the same?

Employers should receive the support to allow women to maintain our single-sex spaces and places in the workplace. Failing to do so contravenes the EEA, not to mention the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as international law, namely CEDAW [the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women], of which Canada is a proud signatory.

The only way to maintain women as a distinct group of people is to define us by our sex. From this vantage point, the intersection of rights does not collide and the Canadian workforce will be better represented as a whole.

From Name Withheld:

Redefining the meaning of women in the Employment Equity Act as a gender instead of or as well as a person’s sex would mean you will have to show what all women have in common with all trans-identified males that women do not have in common with all males.

From Marlena:

It is very distressing to discover a government that ran on transparency and gender based analysis of all legislation and "because it's 2015" is essentially knee-capping all women and subsequent generations of women due to a political ideology. We would like to see your gender based analysis of Bill C16.

de Ghislaine Gendron, Coordonatrice pour le Québec du Women’s Declaration International:

Pour les femmes, une « identité de genre féminine » est une façon camouflée de faire la promotion des stéréotypes associés au sexe qu’on appelle le « genre », c-a-d les les rôles, les comportements sociaux, les attentes que les sociétés ont envers un sexe ou l’autre. Le genre traduit les inégalités sociales entre les hommes et les femmes. Le fait d’en faire la promotion n’est pas un avancement social pour les femmes.

Nous rappelons au gouvernement que lorsque les femmes n’avaient pas le droit de vote, chacun savait ce qu’était une femme. Ça n’a pas changé et nous refusons que les hommes nous redéfinissent.

Les femmes ont également besoin d’avoir des programmes pour les encourager à participer davantage à la vie politique et à occuper des postes de direction parce qu’elles en sont souvent écartées encore aujourd’hui. Ces postes ne doivent pas être occupés par des hommes, peu importe leur sentiment intérieur d’identité.

From Tania Alessandrini:

The recent census has found that 0.33% of the population of Canada consider themselves to be other than their biological sex. This negligible number does not warrant a change in the definition of “woman” in order to include or exclude them.

All over the English speaking world and beyond, people are rejecting this oddly religious ideology of gender identity. It will happen in Canada, too. That is inevitable.

From Linda Blade, President, Athletics Alberta

Men who have governed Canada knew exactly what a WOMAN was when we were not considered "persons" under Canadian law a century ago. You will convince neither me nor the millions of women across this land that biology has changed during the intervening years.

The statutes and social guidelines necessary to keep female persons (WOMEN!!) safe, and to ensure our continued success in Canada, require clarity and language that adequately provides for our DISTINCT needs; be they in sports, prisons, shelters, or other single-sex spaces.

de Kris Fjorday:

Le genre d’une personne devrait être défini par son sexe de naissance.

Définir une personne autrement entraîne un manque de consistance incompatible avec la poursuite de l’égalité femmes/hommes, puisque les individus peuvent avoir différentes identités au cours de leur vie.

From Shelley Crowley:

51% of the population is female. Only girls can grow up to be women. Males who feel like women and who have spent a significant amount of their lives enjoying male privilege may very well have their own experiences of presenting as women, but they do not have the lived experiences of females. It is not possible, and wishing will not make it so. Please define women as what we are - adult human females.

From Mia Ashton:

I believe a woman is an adult human female, the definition that you will find in every single dictionary in existence, in any language throughout the entire world. I frequently see government departments referring to women using the embarrassingly circular and nonsensical definition: a woman is anyone who identifies as a woman. This is simply not true. One cannot use the word one is defining as one’s definition. Even a child knows this. So when my government uses such an empty, vacuous definition, I feel nothing but embarrassment on its behalf.

Gender Dissent thanks all the brave women who shared their thoughts and submissions with us. We will report on the results of the Employment Equity Act Review when the government task force releases its report in Fall 2022.

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