Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I would like to start by saying that I think I am over by about a minute and 30 seconds in my speech. I hope that isn't a problem.
First, Madam Chair, I also want to take the opportunity to congratulate you and Madam Mathyssen on your re-election as chair and vice-chair of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. Your experience, your knowledge, and your dedication to advancing equality for women will serve this committee and Canadian women.
Earlier this month, I led Canada's delegation to the fifty-fourth session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, where I reported on Canada's progress in implementing the Beijing “Platform for Action”.
While in New York, I met with Afghanistan's minister responsible for the status of women, who described to me how Canada's efforts are helping thousands of girls go to school in areas where this was previously impossible.
Haiti's minister for women thanked Canada for our ongoing assistance, which was showing tangible gains in the areas of security and governance before the earthquake, and for our continued post-earthquake support and assistance as the country rebuilds.
As I said in New York, our government believes the pursuit of equality and the full participation of women require a wide variety of players, including non-governmental organizations, the private sector, and all levels of government cooperating and working together. That is why I am particularly pleased that Canada had the largest number ever of non-governmental organizations in attendance at the UN.
Prior to the opening of the fifty-fourth session, I, as head of the Canadian delegation, met with and discussed priorities for the first time ever with over 20 different organizations from a diversity of sectors, including education, labour, women's groups, and businesses. I understand we've set a precedent.
Our plan to ensure progress towards equality for women has three pillars: increasing women's economic security and prosperity, ending violence against women, and enhancing women's leadership and democratic participation. We have already implemented many elements of this plan and we will continue to do so in the months and years ahead.
The facts are that we have experienced very solid progress in a number of areas, including: increased levels of education; reducing poverty; increasing economic participation; and increasing power and decision-making.
A lot of progress has taken place in Canada when it comes to women and girls. For example, in 2007, women represented 61% of all university graduates, compared to 55% in 1998. The high school dropout rate has fallen to 7% from 9% in 2002. In 2009, for the first time, Canadian women became the majority in the workforce at 50.9%, up from 47% in 2004. Women are starting small businesses at twice the rate of men, and the persistent earnings gap is narrowing.
But we all know that there is still more work to do. The challenges that women and girls continue to face are real and prevent countless numbers from realizing their full potential. That is why our government is committed to doing all it can to ensure that every woman and every girl has the opportunity to become a full and active participant in our economy.
We have improved the Canada child tax benefit, the child benefit supplement, and the child disability benefit, and we have introduced the universal child care benefit to put more money in the hands of women and their families. In addition, as of January 31, the Fairness for the Self-Employed Act will extend self-employment benefits--maternity, parental, sickness, and compassionate care--to self-employed Canadians, a growing number of whom are women, as I've already mentioned.
We have also taken steps to better protect women and girls by raising the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 years to shield young people from sexual exploitation by adult predators. We're ending the use of house arrest for offences that involve violent sexual crimes, and we're improving the availability of testimonial aids for vulnerable adult victims and witnesses who have experienced violence. The government is also ensuring and issuing temporary resident permits and providing other supports to victims of human trafficking to enable them to regain their health.
As our recent Speech from the Throne and Budget 2010 demonstrate, we are building on actions that have already made a difference in the lives of Canadians to ensure even brighter futures for women and their families.
Through Budget 2010, our government will invest in measures that directly protect jobs, including extensions to work sharing and investments in training and skills development for youth. This will ensure greater flexibility for women workers, many of whom struggle to find a work-life balance, and more opportunities for young women launching their careers.
For example, our government will provide more than $600 million over three years to help attract talented people, strengthen Canada's capacity for world-leading research and development, and improve commercialization of research.
We will give $2.2 billion to enable industries and communities to support adjustment and provide job opportunities in those parts of Canada that have been hit hardest by the economic downturn.
We will improve the universal child care benefit so that the tax treatment of single parents is comparable to that of single-earner two-parent families.
We will continue to support foreign credential recognition with $30 million in 2010-11, which builds on the $20 million provided in 2009-10, and will help ensure increased opportunities for immigrant women.
We will provide $1.6 billion in 2010 to strengthen benefits for unemployed workers. This support includes up to five additional weeks of employment insurance regular benefits for all eligible claimants, providing greater access to employment insurance regular benefits for long-tenure workers and extending the duration and scope of the work-sharing program.
We will add $6.6 million to enhance the existing federal victims strategy, including better access to employment insurance sickness benefits for families affected by a crime. We will invest $10 million over two years to address the disturbingly high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.
In 2006, over half of Canadian women aged 25 to 64 had completed post-secondary education, giving Canadian women the highest rate of post-secondary education attainment among OECD countries. This high level of educational attainment has positioned the younger generation of Canadian women very strongly to meet the needs of the labour market and a globally competitive knowledge-based economy.
Budget 2010 provides a one-year $30 million increase in funding for the skills link, a component of the youth employment strategy, to assist more young Canadians while the labour market recovers. This initiative will provide more opportunities for young Canadians to successfully join the labour market. The women's program also supports pre-employment skills development projects that work to improve the economic security of women, particularly vulnerable and hard-to-reach women.
Senior women, those living in rural areas, those without reliable public transportation, and widowed, divorced, separated, and immigrant women face issues of isolation. Budget 2010 provides $10 million over two years to increase funding for the New Horizons for Seniors program. The enhanced funding will support projects that focus on volunteering among seniors and ensure that today's seniors can mentor the next generation of volunteers and pass on their valuable skills. It will also support projects that focus on raising awareness of financial abuse of our seniors.
Our government has supported and will continue to support Canadian women and girls to enable their full participation in the life of our country. For example, we have increased women's economic security by supporting projects such as training, coaching, and mentoring through WEConnect, which is the leading certification for small businesses in Canada. We will enable qualified women business owners to participate in economic growth through access to large contract opportunities, which is otherwise known as supplier diversity.
We're helping women to improve their skills, knowledge, and expertise in advanced technology through a project we've partnered with CATAWIT. We're creating opportunities for women industry workers in non-traditional trades to partner with unemployed or under-employed women to get trade and technology jobs in Cape Breton through the Hypatia Association. We are increasing financial literacy and self-employment for young immigrant women in the Windsor and Essex County area through the multicultural council of that region.
Under the pillar of ending violence against women we have supported such projects as UNiTE to End Violence against Women, to help women escape violence and have better access to higher-quality services at women's shelters across the country. A project called Aboriginal Women and Girls: Reclaiming Our Power is helping young aboriginal women and girls in Winnipeg's inner city develop leadership skills, become more aware of healthy relationships, and participate in the schools and communities. We're building opportunity and leadership development for young women to eliminate relationship violence and engage youth in peer processes in New Brunswick to prevent dating violence. These are just a couple of examples of the many projects that are going on.
Under our priority to encourage women's leadership and democratic participation, we have funded such initiatives as Equal Voice to encourage girls and young women to become more actively involved in democratic institutions. We are supporting the Halifax YWCA to increase leadership capacity of at-risk young women in the African Nova Scotian community.
We are also funding and supporting the Women's Worlds forum in 2011. It is a global forum that will connect women of diverse backgrounds from Canada and around the world to prepare them for leadership. The Centre for Development of Women in Governance in Quebec City, to prepare women for key decision-making roles, is also being partnered.
These initiatives demonstrate the positive difference our government is making in the lives of Canadian women and girls. This work will continue, as they are telling us that these initiatives are changing their lives and those of the families in their communities.
In conclusion, our government is committed to equality for women and men, which is not only a human rights issue but a fundamental part of ensuring women contribute fully to the economic, social, and democratic life of Canada. Speaking both as an elected representative and as a woman, I believe equality must be a joint effort shared equally by women and men. We become stronger as a nation when women experience every opportunity possible. Men play a very important role in promoting that equality.