Women have shared their concerns about the lack of involvement of their female counterparts in CSQ committees and councils since the early days of the Committee on the Status of Women, formerly the Laure Gaudreault Committee.
This led to the creation of the Programme d’accès à l’égalité syndicale (PAES, or Equal opportunity program at the union level), adopted during the 1994 CSQ Congress following several surveys and discussions on the matter.
Building on its 52 measures, the PAES has supported and facilitated women’s involvement over the years, resulting in their greater representation within CSQ decision-making bodies.
48% of the 1994 Congress’s official delegates were women. Nearly 25 years later, at the 2018 Congress, that number increased to 60%.
Although this progress is good, the goal of 75%, equivalent to the percentage of the members that the CSQ represents, has not been reached yet. A great deal of work still lies ahead before closing this sizable gap.
Why does such a gap exist?
Ever-present gender inequalities in our society remain a barrier to women’s greater participation. Even today, the burden of work-life balance is shouldered to a greater degree by women than by men. On average, they spend an hour more on household activities than men. This gap widens to slightly over an hour and 20 minutes when they have children aged 4 and under. Reconciling an already challenging balance with activism may be enough to discourage some women from getting involved within their union.
Differential socialization of men and women also explains women’s under-representation in the political sphere. Culturally, girls are taught that they should be beautiful, kind and sweet. Boys, on the other hand, are encouraged to work on their public speaking skills.
This differential socialization results in women feeling less capable of speaking in public to defend their point of view. What is more, they often underestimate their strengths and skills in relation to the performance of certain tasks, when quite the opposite is true.
This impostor syndrome can lead many women to turn down a job interview or an interview with reporters, and probably to refrain from applying to be a delegate or an executive member of their union or federation.
Both here and elsewhere
These issues underlie the under-representation of women in the labour movement as well as other areas of society. In 2017, 61.2% of all Canadian boards or directors were composed entirely of men. At the municipal level, 32.3% of all elected officials were women and only 19% held a position at City Hall.
In the 2019 federal election, women won 29% of the seats in the House of Commons, while the parity zone (between 40% and 60%) was reached for the first time in the 2018 provincial elections, with women representation hitting 42.4%.
Although these figures show the persistence of the glass ceiling for women, data from a recent Secrétariat de la condition féminine survey shows that, for many people in Québec, equality between women and men has been achieved. Sadly, this narrative adversely affects the progress of women toward gender equality.
Beyond the more obvious stereotypes, there are those that remain at a subconscious level. They are the ones who come into play when, in the public sphere, a woman is judged on her appearance and the clothes she wears, shifting the focus away from her comments and ideas.
Tolerance toward men and women, when levelling criticism, also seems to be biased against women. We need only look at what women in the current government’s Cabinet have to deal with to see the extent of this double standard.
Whether knowingly or unknowingly, stereotypes about women’s appearance and skills can influence other people’s perception. To shatter this glass ceiling and support women’s involvement in political decision-making bodies, including those at the CSQ, we must all recognize our own gender biases as well as the barriers impeding women from getting involved in various organizations so as to implement measures which help and facilitate their participation.
The CSQ should celebrate its progress. However, even after 25 years, the PAES remains an essential tool toward reaching the goal of proportional representation for women at the CSQ as well as providing women with the opportunity to have their voices heard throughout the organization.