Gender Parity for More Equality 

Understanding the Law

To mark International Women’s Day, here’s a look at gender parity in Quebec. Éducaloi walks you through some of the progress that was made and the legal rules in place to promote a more egalitarian and inclusive society.

In Quebec, people are equal in the eyes of the law, regardless of their sexual and gender identity. The Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms protects the principle of gender equality since 1975, and many laws were passed over the years to promote it.

Gender parity is one of the necessary conditions for equality. The goal of parity is to correct the under-representation of women in different fields, such as the political, administrative or legal fields.

In politics

In 2017, the National Assembly unanimously adopted a motion to set parity as a goal to be achieved in all sectors of society.

However, the National Assembly decided not to pass a law requiring that at least 40% of candidates be women or recommending that political parties reach quotas. Instead, the Commission des relations avec les citoyens (the citizen relations commission) opted to rely on everyone’s good will to achieve parity in politics.

Similarly, the federal government was not very keen on quotas. Nevertheless, some measures were put in place to get closer to parity.

Justin Trudeau appointed a cabinet with an equal number of men and women in 2015 – the first cabinet to reach parity. Though there is no official obligation to reach this quota, the cabinet has maintained gender parity ever since.

However, there is still work to be done outside of the ministerial cabinet. Women accounted for only a third of those elected in the 2021 federal election.

In the 2022 Quebec election, women were more prominent than in the federal elections. They represented over 46% of elected officials, with 58 elected Members of National Assembly.

At the municipal level, Quebec implemented an action place that aims to increase the number of women candidates. The result? An increase of over 10% in the number of women elected to the municipal office, from nearly 25% in 2005 to over 35% in the 2021 elections.

Within boards of directors

According to the Conseil du statut de la femme (council for the status of women), Quebec ranks third among Canadian provinces in terms of women’s representation on boards, behind Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.

More broadly in Canada, fewer than 20% of board members were women in 2019.

No law requires parity on the boards of publicly traded or private companies in Canada or in Quebec. However, a number of initiatives have been put in place to promote diversity.

Things are different for Crown corporations, also known as state-owned enterprises. In Quebec, there are 47 state-owned enterprises, such as Hydro-Québec, the Société de la Place des Arts de Montréal and Héma-Québec. A law called the Act respecting the governance of state-owned enterprises applies to them. This law recognizes that women’s participation in decision-making bodies should be greater, and states that at least 40% of board positions should be occupied by women.

This law came into force in 2006, when women accounted for 31% of board members within state-owned enterprises. The law has proven its effectiveness: women represented almost 53% of board members in Quebec by the end of 2022.

In the legal world

Since 2014, women lawyers have outnumbered men as members of the Barreau du Québec (Quebec bar). In 2014, women lawyers represented 51% of all Barreau members, and the proportion of women in the profession has continued to rise ever since, reaching 55% in 2021.

The representation of women is even stronger in the notarial profession: in 2023, women represented 69% of members of the Chambre des notaires du Québec (notaries’ association).

Among Quebec judges, gender parity follows the same trend. Over the 2012–2023 period, the proportion of women judges at the Court of Québec increased by approximately 12%, jumping from 39% to nearly 51%.

In 2012, the Quebec government adopted a regulation that detailed the selection procedure for Court of Québec judges, municipal court judges and justices of the peace. One of the rules specifies that the selection committee must be sensitive to the objective of promoting gender parity when choosing judges.