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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:

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.


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 enshr