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New Quebec statistics on pay gap between men and women should have elicited a response.

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With their socks pulled up to their knees and the maple leaf on their chests, Canada’s national soccer team made its debut in the FIFA World Cup this week, after a 36-year absence from the international competition.

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Since being awarded to Qatar, 10 years ago, this Mùndial has been plagued by controversy. There are the thousands of migrants who were subjected to horrific working and living conditions and the thousands killed while building the stadiums. And, there are the numerous human rights violations, including against members of the LGBTQ+ communities.

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It has made for quite a moral test. Should countries send their teams? All qualifying teams have made the trip to Qatar. Should fans watch the games? Most will, no doubt. But by no means is such participation a sign they aren’t aware of or don’t care about human rights issues. There is a way to participate and protest at the same time. The Danish team, for example, has found that balance. Their jerseys for the World Cup are monochrome and sober: a red one, a white one and a black one. The latter, the colour of mourning, is in honour of the migrants. “We support the Danish national team all the way, but that isn’t the same as supporting Qatar as a host nation,” wrote Hummel, the apparel brand that made the jerseys.

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When there are injustices, inequities and worrisome social issues, data shows — and increasingly so, year after year — that we want to hear from brands and companies we love and trust. Their values need to reflect ours.

It was then quite a surprise to see that our province’s most beloved and emblematic brands did not speak out after figures released this week by the Institut de la statistique du Québec. Its latest data revealed that, on average, in Quebec women earned 91 per cent of the hourly salary of men. In 2021, in Quebec — as in many industrialized nations — we still haven’t reached pay equality. How is that possible?

Media reports about the institute’s latest findings all mention the “strides” made since the Pay Equity Act was passed in 1996. It was designed to eliminate the salary gap due to systemic gender discrimination, where pay in predominantly male jobs was higher than in predominantly female ones where required qualifications and skills were equivalent.

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However the situation remains awful.

Could it be that the brands and companies are quiet because they contribute to this inequity? We collectively shook our heads when the U.S. Supreme Court voted to overturn abortion rights, earlier this year. We questioned why China was awarded the Winter Olympics, because of its abusive treatment of Uyghurs, and some have wondered whether Canada should be in the World Cup. Certainly, the concerns in our own backyards may not be of the same magnitude as what goes on elsewhere in the world, but we also are in a better position to do something about them.

There are various reasons for the gap reflected in the statistics, and some reflect broad societal patterns. But rarely have I signed a contract and not wondered if I would have gotten more, had I been a man. It partly explains why I’m so unmoved by March 8 campaigns. Each International Women’s Day, companies and brands here, like elsewhere, are quick to share social media posts about how great women are and how essential our rights are. None of this pageantry matters, if women still find themselves underpaid. Seems so basic.

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The next World Cup will be held in 2026, in 16 cities across North America. I hope that by then, pay equity will be a reality and not just a law collecting dust.

And a personal note, dear readers: this is my last weekly column. Starting in December,  I’ve decided to make our rendez-vous a monthly one.

Martine St-Victor is general manager of Edelman Montreal and a media commentator. Instagram and Twitter: martinemontreal

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