On September 26, 2023, the Equal Futures Network hosted our final interactive incubator session, Lessons Learned for Advancing Gender Equality in Canada. During the session, we reflected on over three years of convening the gender equality community in Canada as we shared our key project results, best practices for advancing gender equality in Canada, tools, resources and our key takeaways. Attendees were able to hear about important project milestones and highlights related to membership, capacity strengthening activities, convening moments and project findings. Over 115 people registered for the session and a total of 65 participants engaged in a breakout room discussion that focused on building on the road map we started back in 2021 for achieving gender equality!

Attendees shared their perspectives and insights about the issues, challenges and obstacles in the short, medium and long-term that create barriers for advancing gender equality through their work and community engagement and what we can do, in partnership, to overcome these so that we advance GE for everyone and ensure equal futures for all!  

Here is what we heard: 

1. Key Project Highlights – Membership

Since early 2021, the Equal Futures Network has worked to build a network that represents the diversity of work being done to advance gender equality and social justice in communities across Canada. Currently, our membership has grown to 532 members with representation from every province and territory. Please find some key highlights related to our members’ location, scope of work and organizational composition below: 

  • Location: The Network’s membership remains concentrated in central Canada (45%), as Ontario and Quebec (25% and 20%) have the highest Network members. Following this, 26% of members are located in Western Canada and 13% in Atlantic Canada. Additionally, 29% of organizations identify as pan-Canadian, meaning they operate in communities across the country and/or have a national reach with their programming.

  • Scope of Work: This information showcases the depth and breadth of our memberships work to advance gender equality in their communities. The majority of members’ work focuses in:
    • Education/Workshops: 57%
    • Advocacy/Campaigns: 44%
    • Frontline Service Delivery/Support Services: 35%
    • Gender-Based Violence: 27%
    • Empowerment: 23%

  • Community Details and Organizational Composition: Members across the country work with a variety of communities and have diverse organizational structures. In fact, of our 532 members:
    • 311 organizations work with or deliver programming to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities; 
    • 291 with youth and; 
    • 289 with 2SLGBTQ+ communities. 

  • Additionally:
    • 96% of our members identify as women-led; 
    • 29% identify as small/grassroots organizations; 
    • 12% are run by youth (under 30) and; 
    • 6% as Indigenous-led. 

The depth and breadth of Network membership has grown immensely over the past few years as we engaged with the diversity of organizations across the domestic GE landscape. This has greatly impacted the direction of our programming including the tools and resources that have been created to support our members’ GE work. 

2. Equal Futures 2022 and 2023

The Equal Futures Network has focused on supporting the GE ecosystem,solidifying our role as a part of the collective effort to drive progress for gender equality from coast-to-coast-to-coast. This has seen us convene the overall GE movement through a variety of different engagement and capacity strengthening opportunities. Through our flagship events, Equal Futures 2022 and Equal Futures 2023, the past few years have seen us bring together the GE sector and communicate the impact of the GE work being done in Canada with a broad range of stakeholders. In particular, these events aimed to convene discussions, share best practices and challenges, amplify the work of our members and partners and create opportunities to build partnerships across regions, languages and sectors. Please find some key highlights from both events below: 

  • Equal Futures 2022:
    • The inaugural summit took place on unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe territory, known on settler maps as Ottawa, Ont. from June 7-8, 2022. Over the course of two days, we welcomed over 300 gender equality champions, leaders and partners from across the country , both in-person and online to mark this important event. 
    • Through the theme “Collaboration, Collective Action and Community”, the summit featured a variety of programming, including practical workshops, high-level panels and discussions and networking opportunities for participants to build connections, strengthen capacity, share expertise and establish the collective actions to pave the path forward for advancing gender equality across the country and around the world.
  • Equal Futures 2023:
    • Equal Futures 2023 worked to deepen engagement with key sector partners within the GE ecosystem and create spaces to highlight the work of those who are typically left out of the mainstream conversations, work and funding for GE advancement. Over the course of two days, we welcomed over 350 attendees from every province and territory, both in-person and online.
    • This summit had a targeted focus on rural, remote and Northern communities, which was a key reason behind the summit’s location on the traditional territories of Kwanlin Dün First Nation and Ta’an Kwäch’än Council, also known as Whitehorse, YT. 
    • Through the theme, “People, Perspectives and Partnerships”, the 2023 summit centered on the diversity of experiences of remote, rural and Northern communities and highlighted the unique challenges they face for advancing gender equality and social justice. 
  • Top themes from both summits:
    • Indigenous solidarity, gender-based violence, climate change, economic empowerment; 
    • The importance of collaboration within the sector;
    • Inclusion – moving beyond representation and creating a concentrated effort to dismantling the binary system;
    • Intersectionality and what this looks like in practice – in particular, the need for more diverse voices in the room, how to value lived experience as true expertise, further understanding and unpacking power and privilege on the individual and organizational level;
    • Building local and global connections within gender equality work;
    • The need for rest and recovery within the movement.

3. Key Project Findings 

Throughout the course of this project, we had the opportunity to observe and hear the diverse challenges impacting the gender equality ecosystem and have pulled those together into two categories: 

Systemic challenges: This category looks at what challenges / barriers organizations face at a systems/institutional level that impacts their work. What was identified as top priorities were:

  1. Advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA)
  2. Advancing Equity by Incorporating Intersectionality
  3. Combating Anti-Black Racism
  4. Advancing Reconciliation and Decolonization

Sector strengthening: This category looks at how from an organizational perspective the sector can be strengthened to address identified challenges. What was identified as top priorities were:

  1. Coalition Building
  2. Working in Partnership
  3. Data Collection and Research 

For both of these areas, we asked Network members to identify what challenges to advancing these priorities they face in their work. Some of the challenges that rose to the top were: 

  • Lack of resources (both financial and time/capacity); 
  • Lack of tools/resources (especially those geared towards/created for/by Francophone organizations); 
  • Challenges to keep up with changing needs; 
  • Lack of cohesion in the movement / siloed work; 
  • Lack of evidence; 
  • Lack of representation (especially lived experiences) 

These systemic and sector challenges impact us all, and specifically, the ways we work and are able to effectively drive forward our programming. These challenges are not immune to a specific area / type of work but impact all of our work across the GE ecosystem and ultimately, impact our ability to drive progress forward for gender equality. As a result, there is a need for cohesive, targeted and universal tools, resources and best practices to support the GE ecosystem to overcome these challenges, build partnerships and work together to create a cohesive narrative for GE across the country. 

4. Tools and Resources

In response to these challenges, we have developed a variety of different tools, resources and best practices that we hope will not only strengthen and support the work of our Network members and the broader GE movement but also determine priorities for the years to come while mobilizing different stakeholders and partners in this work. Please find a list of our tools and resources below: 

  1. The Power of Coalitions Report: This report unites our work under the power of coalitions and includes best practices for working in partnership to drive progress for gender equality, lessons learned and the tools and resources that we have developed over the course of this project to support the GE ecosystem to overcome some of the identified system and sector challenges. 
  2. Building feminist frameworks checklist: A checklist providing users with tangible, concrete next steps and examples as you build a feminist organization and develop your organizational feminist values. 
  3. Best practices for Building Authentic Relationships: A deep dive into lessons we’ve learned and best practices for building authentic partnerships and relationships.
  4. Principles for Engagement – Strategic Engagement Plan: We share our Strategic Engagement Plan, unpacking insights into how we approached our engagement with youth, 2SLGBTQ+, Indigenous and the disability community. 

These tools were developed in response to some of the key gap areas and challenges identified by our project findings with the hope that they will strengthen and support all  your gender equality efforts!

5. Building a Road Map for Gender Equality 

Two years ago, during gender equality week we started to map out the immediate, medium and long-term objectives to combat challenges for GE and achieve commitments for Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, gender equality, by 2030. Over the past few years, we have been revisiting this conversation to see what shifts are happening and what themes are consistently coming out and tracking them in what we have called a Roadmap for Gender Equality. For this activity, we broke down the group into 5 groups to discuss: 

  1. What are the strengths of the sector we need to build on? 
  2. What are the overall concerns, threats and challenges? 
  3. What do we need to do in the immediate term to advance GE to see progress for SDG 5? 
  4. What do we need to do in the medium term to advance GE to see progress for SDG 5? 
  5. What do we need to do in the long term to advance GE to see progress for SDG 5? 

Check out the updated roadmap for GE here

Creating a Culture of Consent: Strategies for Universities to Promote Respectful Relationships on Campus
Presenting our new report: The Power of Coalitions

The Equal Futures Network acknowledges that Indigenous people are the traditional guardians of Turtle Island, on the land also known as Canada

Read our full Territory Acknowledgment here.