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Canada ranks No. 1 for women’s rights out of G20 countries

Gender equality specialists have ranked Canada No. 1 for women's rights among other G20 countries. (Thinkstock) …Canada is the best of the G20 countries when it comes to women's rights, according to a recent poll by a Thomson Reuters Foundation's news service, TrustLaw. But Canadian gender-equality advocates find that hard to believe.

In the poll, a total of 370 gender equality specialists rated G20 countries on how women fare in terms of opportunities at the workplace and in politics, access to resources and health care, and freedom from violence and trafficking.

Canada led the pack, followed by Germany, Britain, Australia and France. At the bottom of the list came India, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia.

"Have women moved forward in Canada? Absolutely not," says Barbara Byers, executive vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress, "Have women internationally been pushed backwards? Yes, the push is on."

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In 2010, Byers worked with a number of women's rights groups to create a report on the decline of women's rights in Canada they called a "reality check."

"When you look at things like workplace opportunities and pay equity," she says, "women in Canada have lost ground."

While 30 years ago, women in Canada were earning roughly 70 cents for every dollar that a man made for comparable work, that statistic is approximately the same today.

Byers laments the lack of a national childcare program, as well as insufficient resources, like shelters, for women facing violence.

She also argues that some groups of women in Canada, like Aboriginal women, visible minorities, and those with disabilities are disproportionately affected.

"There are some demographics that aren't being looked at clearly and might make us closer to Indonesia than to Germany," she says.

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In fact, she thinks the G20 comparison may not be a fair one, and we might be better served by comparing ourselves to the Nordic countries.

"It's one thing to say, 'Wow, we're doing much better than Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia,'" she says. "But let's take a look at where we're at in that equality index in comparison to Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland."

In fact, in the 2011 United Nations' Gender Inequality Index, Canada came in 20th place, and in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap 2011 Rankings, Canada came in 18th. We trailed behind the Nordic countries in both measures.

The same goes in the political realm. In the TrustLaw poll, Canada came in second place in terms of political participation, but according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Canada barely makes it in the top 40 countries, with a parliamentary participation rate of just under 25 per cent for women. And again, we are far behind the Nordic countries.

"I would say one of the key differences is political culture," says Nancy Peckford, the executive director of Equal Voice, an organization the promotes women in politics. "The Nordic countries have come to accept that anything less than 40 per cent is abnormal. Whereas here, we're celebrating 25 per cent."

She was surprised to see Canada ranking so well on the G20 poll.

"We have work to do," she says. "Not to say that we don't have wonderful women out there who are thriving in leadership positions across the board. We are very encouraged by that, but there is certainly more progress to be made before we can celebrate."

So while we may have beat out our fellow G20 countries, that might not be as good as it seems.

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