It’s been said that by raising the level of the water we allow all canoes to float a little higher.

On International Women’s Day, I want to reflect on what happens when we focus on raising the water around a woman’s boat.

I’ve seen it first hand. As an advocate for women my entire adult life, I see that when we raise the water level around a woman’s boat in a single lake, the water expands into the streams and rivers that feed into and flow out of that lake, and they all overflow with abundance.

Women work hard to make sure they can lift others around them – Our colleagues, our sisters, our friends and our children all benefit when a woman succeeds.

I’ve seen this as the executive director of the Vanier Business Improvement Association — the innovation and passion that takes hold when a group of women establish a clinic for an underserved population or create a festival that celebrates our local artists.

And I’ve seen many incredibly strong women overcome tragedy in my role as a support worker and director at both the Ottawa Sexual Assault Centre and the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre – to go forward, heal, nurture and mentor others.

I acknowledge that women have come a long way toward equality in Canada compared to many places in the world. But there is so much more to do. There is so much we must do.

It starts in our own communities.

Affordable housing must be an economic priority to empower women to break the generational cycle of poverty.

Funding for women-specific health services, including shelters, crisis counselling and family counselling allows women to heal so they can become healers, themselves. But we can’t expect continuity of service without adequate funding.

Available and affordable quality childcare, and specific opportunities and grants for women-owned business is a proven element of the strongest local economies.

We must continue to champion gender diversity in our public and private institutions. The economic case for women in leadership roles has been made time and time again.

Catalyst research has shown companies with three women directors outperform those without women on board, including:

  • an 84 per cent higher return on sales
  • a 60 per cent higher return on investment capital
  • and a 46 per cent higher return on equity over a five-year period.

Dow Jones discovered that business start-ups are more successful with women at the helm – those with five or more female executives are less likely to fail in the first years when compared with companies dominated by men.

We shouldn’t have to make the case on International Women’s Day in 2019 for public policies customized for women to level the playing field. But it remains a priority. The reality is that, in spite of all our success and all we’ve overcome…

 women (and their children) are more likely than men to live below the poverty line in this country

Women and girls have a one in three chance of being sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

And women continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles, political positions, and science professions – never mind the wage gap that persists, even today.

We can make a difference at the local level. When we choose – through our actions, our advocacy and our public policy prioritization at the neighbourhood, business and city level – to put women at the fore, we incrementally, but foundationally, raise the level of the waters around everyone in our community, (which means all our canoes can float a little higher).