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Rights for all

Equality of women and men

Equality of women and men

Equality of women and men

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Gender equality: A right enshrined in the Charter

In 1975, the right to equality without discrimination based on gender was enshrined in the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. In order to strengthen the principle of equality of women and men, this principle was enshrined in the Preamble to the Charter in 2008. The Preamble explains the goal and scope of the Charter; in other words, it affirms that gender equality is a fundamental value of Québec society.

Furthermore, in 2008 a section was added to the Charter, section 50.1, which says that the rights and freedoms set forth in the Charter are guaranteed equally to women and men.

This means that the right to equality of women and men must be taken into account in analyzing a legal question or when a human freedom or right is at stake.

 

Equality of women and men is therefore already written into the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms at three different places

 
 

Reasonable accommodation

In legal language, the duty to accommodate is said to be a "natural corollary" of the right to equality guaranteed under the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. This legal obligation is a means of putting an end to a situation of discrimination based on gender, disability, religion, sex or any other ground prohibited under section 10 of the Charter. The obligation to accommodate applies in all situations of prohibited discrimination.

Clear guidelines already exist, that is to say, criteria for evaluating whether accommodation is reasonable or if there is undue hardship that would prevent an employer or a service provider from granting accommodation.

Accommodation that compromises the right to equality, including equality of women and men, is considered unreasonable

This evaluation is based on the following criteria, developed by the courts over the course of 30 years:

  • The cost of the accommodation requested;
  • Its impact on the rights of others;
  • Its impact on the proper operation of an organization or business;
  • Its impact on the level of security to maintain within the organization or business.

For further information: Reasonable accommodation
 
 

Equality: legal vs real

The right to equality protected by the QuébecCharter aims to ensure real equality. This means that real equality is not necessarily achieved by treating everyone the same way. Each person’s characteristics and social context must be taken into account because society is marked by profound inequalities. To ensure the right to real equality, we must always take into consideration the context of inequality and vulnerability that marks certain women more than others, notably due to their social condition, religion or ethnic origin.

 
 

Inequality: A few figures

If women have legal equality, is it real equality? Data shows that many of them live with real inequality on a daily basis. In Québec, women are generally poorer than men. Furthermore, violence against women does not seem to be fading with time. Women also continue to be under-represented in positions of power.

  • In 2010, on average, women’s total income was $29,200, which represents 73.7% of the average total income earned by men ($39,600).
  • In 2011, 23.9% of personal crime victims were victims of spousal assault. Women accounted for 81% of these victims.
  • In 2010, women held only 15.8% of the seats on the boards of directors of Québec’s 100 biggest companies.
Average total income of women (29 200$)  and men (39 600$) for the year 2010, represented by 2 columns of different colors.
...respect for the dignity of human beings, equality of women and men, and recognition of their rights and freedoms constitute the foundation of justice, liberty and peace  

- Preamble of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms

 
 

Equality of women and men and economic and social rights

For women, the fight against inequality is an ongoing challenge within Québec society. Above and beyond the declaration of values or principles, attaining the right to real equality of women and men entails real recognition of economic and social rights.

The Commission has repeatedly recommended strengthening of economic and social rights, a neglected part of the Charter. Only sections 1 to 38 of the Charter prevail over all other Québec laws. Other rights, notably the right to social measures that ensure an acceptable standard of living and the right to fair and reasonable conditions of employment, do not take precedence. The fact that these economic and social rights fail to prevail over all other legislation is a substantial obstacle to achieving real equality for women, who are more affected by poverty than men are in Québec.

Poverty is by far the most harmful situation to the exercise of rights, particularly, the right to equality.

In its report on the 25th anniversary of the Charter, the Commission also recommended adding fundamental rights such as the right to housing, health and the dignity of workers, rights that would contribute to achieving real equality for women.

The fight for equality of women and men

  • 1940: Women in Québec obtain the right to vote
  • 1964: Married women obtain full legal capacity as to their civil rights
  • 1968: Sections of the Criminal Code prohibiting publicity for contraceptive products and their sale or distribution of information on this subject are removed from it.

Did you know?

Women file complaints with the Commission mainly concerning workplace discrimination: 43% of cases are sexual harassment complaints and 53%, complaints regarding discrimination in hiring practices or on the job.

More in-depth study of the files shows that women who filed a complaint for these situations of discrimination were fired, were not hired or ended up on sick leave. In almost all cases of sexual harassment, the women either resigned or gave up their job.

Women are also victims of discrimination based on pregnancy. Over the past 4 years, the Commission has received 86 complaints of this kind, most of them concerning dismissal, layoff or refusal to hire.


This information complements the Commission’s comments published on October 17, 2013.

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