Submission to the Employment Equity Act Review Task Force: what is a woman?


Employment Equity Act Review Task Force C/O Employment Equity Act Review Secretariat (mailstop # 911) ESDC, 140 Promenade du Portage, Phase IV Gatineau, QC, K1A 0J9 Email: EDSC.LEE-EEA.ESDC@labour-travail.gc.ca


April 27, 2022


RE: Employment Equity Act Review - Feedback Submission


We are a cross-Canada, non-partisan coalition of women and male allies working together to preserve the rights and protections of women and girls, as enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 15), and wish to respond to your call for submissions as outlined in Policy brief 1: Defining and expanding equity groups, with particular focus on the definition of woman:


Q: 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?


We welcome this opportunity to provide our feedback on this aspect of the review of the Employment Equity Act as we believe it will have significant, ongoing impact on the identification, consideration and treatment of women as a designated group under this legislation.


We understand that should a definition for “woman” be formalized via incorporation in the Employment Equity Act to reflect a “modern understanding” it will:


  • establish who is a woman for employment equity purposes, and whether this can be determined based on objective characteristics or self-identification alone;


  • determine whether employers will be required, or even able, to collect and analyze sex-based data when identifying systemic barriers to women;


  • establish who can access affirmative action measures aimed at eliminating conditions of disadvantage experienced by women; and,


  • influence the meaning of “woman” in other legislation, including provincial and territorial legislation, containing provisions that recognize and aim to address the special needs of women, such as the federal Pay Equity Act and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.


As this is a response to a nationally publicized call for feedback, we trust that it will be received and treated with the same respect and consideration as all submissions made to the Employment Equity Act Review Task Force by any Canadian group or individual.


Background

In 2017, following the passing of Bill C-16, gender identity and gender expression were added to the Canadian Human Rights Act as legally protected, distinct characteristics. Shortly afterward, the federal government began changing the language it uses to refer to, and collect information on, sex and gender.


As a result of these changes – and the ongoing pressure of LGBTQ+ advocacy groups to modify what it means to be a woman – the sex-based rights of women, as enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 15), have been eroded and even dismissed.


Examples of this erosion and dismissal include:






When women have tried to raise awareness of how the outcomes of Bill C-16 have negatively affected their rights and safety, they have been publicly vilified by government-funded monitors.


When women have tried to restrict access to spaces that are meant to shelter them from male violence and help them heal from abuse, they have been viciously targeted and vandalized.


When women have dared to express their disagreement with the notion that males can simply self-identify into the female sex class, they have been investigated, removed from their professional posts and fired from their jobs.


One of the more egregious examples of insult and injury for women resulting from social, bureaucratic and political confusion as to what defines them, and what words any Canadian citizen may now utter in public, occurred recently:


When women participated in the 2021 virtual “Feminist Response and Recovery Summit ” sponsored by the federal department Women and Gender Equality (WAGE) for International Women’s Day, they were scolded for using the word “female.” They were told it is exclusionary and not to use the word. When the women sought clarification as to how an event may be promoted as feminist if the term "female" may not be used, they were ejected from the event and called "disrespectful, transphobic and homophobic" by the organizers in a follow-up communiqué to all event participants.


It is clear.


Women in Canada are being censored.


Women in Canada are being coerced to accept -- and even celebrate -- opposite-sex intrusion into our private spaces, athletic activities and professional pursuits.


Women in Canada are being condemned for raising our voices, posting our opinions and pointing out the obvious and not-so-obvious problems posed for us and our daughters and our grandmothers when males are permitted access-without-question to the programs, protections and benefits that were put in place precisely because of our biological, sex-based differences. This includes those programs, protections and benefits that are legislated and regulated through the Employment Equity Act.


And so it is, five years after the coming-into-force of the Bill C-16 amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act, that Canadian women are now wary and distrustful of our government reviewing, and potentially "updating" anything related to our Charter-guaranteed sex-based rights.


Today, our government is asking if the definition of who we are in federally regulated workspaces should be redefined and/or modernized.


We have concerns and we want to be heard.


Our position

For the reasons and examples noted above concerning the erosion and dismissal of women’s sex-based rights, and the possibility that a definition of “woman” will be legally formalized as a result of this review of the Employment Equity Act, we request that the Government of Canada observe, maintain and formalize the universally understood definition for woman, as per the Oxford English Dictionary and most other commonly referenced English dictionaries:


With specific regard to the purpose of the Employment Equity Act, the biological differences between men and women must be recognized. It is precisely because of these biological differences, and the distinct responsibilities and conditions that biology imparts upon women, that we base our insistence. Women, while some may wish to, cannot simply identify themselves out of their biological conditions of disadvantage, in comparison to men, in the workplace, or in society at large.


We note the stated purpose of the Employment Equity Act:


“Purpose of Act

The purpose of this Act is to achieve equality in the workplace so that no person shall be denied employment opportunities or benefits for reasons unrelated to ability and, in the fulfilment of peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities by giving effect to the principle that employment equity means more than treating persons in the same way but also requires special measures and the accommodation of differences.”


It is our differences that must continue to be acknowledged in the Employment Equity Act.


We categorically reject the definition for women that currently exists in a glossary on the Justice Canada web site: “All people who identify as women, whether they are cisgender or transgender women.”


We also reject the definition for women included in a 2021 report of the Ryerson University Diversity Institute, commissioned by the Standards Council of Canada and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada: “Women refers to gender identity not biological sex.”


No.


Women are adult female human beings.


We are not an identity. We are women.


We are distinct from males (regardless of how they see themselves, or wish others to see them) and must be recognized in law and public policy as such.


We assert the following:


  • Sex -- as distinct from gender -- is a material, biological reality.


  • "Gender identity and expression," are culturally-based, stereotypical degrees of “masculinity” and “femininity” (e.g., men like hockey, women like fashion).


  • All Canadians are free to express and present themselves as they wish; however, the concept of "gender identity and expression" does not negate the material, biological reality of women.


  • Women’s sex-based Charter rights must be strongly asserted and preserved in public policy, and must take precedence over any concept of gender.


We expect the Task Force is aware of the recent, high-profile exchange whereby a nominee to the United States Supreme Court refused to answer the question, “Can you provide a definition for the word ‘woman’?” Critical political thinkers understand that this was not because the highly educated judge is unware of what a woman is but because she is acutely aware of the political and social mine field in which one tiptoes today when discussing what it means to be a woman.


We reject all notions in which we are forced to deny sexual dimorphism and biological reality, and surrender the words that have effectively described us and our female-specific experiences since the advent of human language. Nor do we want to work in a federal workplace or federally regulated industry in which we are no longer permitted to refer to humans born with the potential (whether or not they are willing and/or capable) to be impregnated, to gestate, to birth and nurse children, as women. It is only women and not men who must bear the inherent physical, mental, social and economic conditions, challenges and disadvantages that come with this reproductive potential, for better or for worse.


It is our government’s Charter responsibility to respect and protect women’s sex-based rights, to design and provide them equal opportunities to succeed economically, and to support their success overall as one of the designated groups under the Employment Equity Act.


To define a woman as anything less or anything more than an adult human female has the potential to degrade and endanger her.


We submit that the definition for woman in the Employment Equity Act must remain “adult female human being” in order to remain aligned with the stated purpose of the Act.