North Grenville Mayor Nancy Peckford in her office Jan. 8.

by Mayor Nancy Peckford

For many decades, International Women’s Day was not well recognized. The origins of the day are over a century old, when in 1911, it was marked for the first time on March 11th by a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. A mix of celebration and protest, many women seized the day to demand that they be given the right to vote and to hold public office. Others protested against sex discrimination in employment.

In fact, it wasn’t until 1975 when the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day that the UN encouraged countries across the globe to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for Women’s Rights and World Peace. Even then, the day was off the radar of most Canadians.

In the last decade, International Women’s Day (IWD) has assumed more significance because, in part, businesses and organizations in the private and public sectors regard it as an opportunity to highlight their commitment to women’s leadership, and strengthen consumer loyalty among their female clientele. Nearly 80% of women in Canada are now in the paid workforce and their buying power matters a great deal.

Overwhelmingly, women continue to make the majority of household purchasing decisions. In very competitive markets, companies recognize the need for their messages to reflect the mindset and priorities of women and their families. This is hard to do if there are few women in senior management positions.

But beyond the crass bottom line, the world is facing bigger challenges. The World Economic Forum has, since 2006, produced an annual Global Gender Gap report. When the Global Forum first initiated the report, many women, including myself, were surprised that an organization exclusively focused on economic productivity would go down this path. But, it totally makes sense.

In this year’s report, the World Economic Forum reported the following: “The reality is that many countries are well-placed to maximize women’s economic potential, however they are failing to reap the returns from their investment in female education. In addition, too few countries are preparing to meet the challenges … posed by the changing nature of work.”

Canada doesn’t even make the Top 10 in the Forum’s report card because of its lack of gender balance in business, the economy, and government. South African, Germany, and New Zealand all outrank us. In 2020, Canada ranked 54th in the world for the percentage of women in politics, and 55th for women in senior management positions in business and government.

As we all know, our world is facing imminent threats, whether it’s protracted war, climate change as well as a growing gap between rich and poor. Mental health challenges are increasingly prevalent, and many service jobs in the low wage economy rarely pay the bills.

Under these circumstances, the World Economic Forum recommends: 1/ Hardwire women into the future of work by ensuring they are well-integrated into all professions, including the skilled trades where there is a real need and the pay is good; 2/ Advance more women into management and leadership positions; 3/ close the gaps in pay.

Fortunately, both Ontario and the federal government are putting unprecedented money into attracting our youth, including women, into the skilled trades. Provincial Minister Monte McNaughton recently announced major investments to respond to the skills gap in this province. Kemptville Campus is also positioning itself as a regional site for skills acquisition, including agro-forestry, machinery, greenhouses, agriculture, primary and secondary education and much more.

We also stand out in North Grenville, not just for my role as a female mayor, but also for a female majority Council. Three of five councilors here are women. Less than 20% of Mayors in Canada are women, and women comprise, on average, only 25% of municipal Councillors in the county. We are well above average.

North Grenville is also blessed with an abundance of women who own businesses and provide leadership to the community. All of which means there’s lots to celebrate as we reflect on International Women’s Day. We’ve definitely come a very long way since 1911. But there’s an awful long way to go if we wish to fully leverage women’s talents, skills and perspectives.

With that in mind, my goal is to ensure that North Grenville remains ahead of the curve, not behind it. And given the intelligence and caring in this community, I am pretty confident we can pull it off.

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