As people around the world celebrate International Women’s Day today by participating in events recognizing the economic, political and social achievements of women, Canadians — and Torontonians in particular — should do so with cautious optimism, experts say.

Sarah Blackstock, director of advocacy and communications at the YWCA Toronto — which serves 26,000 women in the city through various shelters and programs — believes today marks an opportunity to examine what still needs to be done to achieve total gender equality in Toronto.

“We still have a long way to go towards achieving equality because our shelters for women fleeing violence are full,” said Blackstock. She points to one of the main issues facing women in Toronto: Low-wage work. “Women (between age 25 and 44) earn 65.7 per cent of the average earnings of men. In 1998, we earned 62 per cent of the average earnings of men. In 12 incredibly prosperous years there’s barely been any change,” she said.

She says women shouldn’t feel obligated to stay in a violent relationship to be able to feed their children. In Canada, one-quarter of all single mothers are poor.

Another issue is access to high-quality, affordable child care. “This is critical to women’s equality and we are likely going to be losing subsidized childcare spots in Toronto,” said Blackstock. “Women can’t work if they can’t access child care.”

Blackstock says while there have been advances in the overall recognition of women’s rights, that talk is not reflected in their wallets. “That matters a lot because that’s how women have autonomy and independence.”

On a positive note, Blackstock said there is definitely increased recognition of the significance of empowering women.

“We’re beginning to accept that women’s leadership offers a lot to this city. We have a lot of women in important leadership positions,” she said, pointing to the United Way’s CEO Frances Lankin.

“If we want a strong city, we need to have women involved at the decision-making tables.

Research shows that’s the case across the world.”

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