Accenture: Is artificial intelligence sexist?

An interesting look at the bias question of AI and some AI and related techniques to reduce bias. While written in terms of gender, the approach (use analytics, bias hunting algorithms, fairness software tools) could be deployed more widely:

Artificial intelligence (AI) is bringing amazing changes to the workplace, and it’s raising a perplexing question: Are those robots sexist?

While it may sound strange that AI could be gender-biased, there’s evidence that it’s happening when organizations aren’t taking the right steps.

In the age of #MeToo and the drive to achieve gender parity in the workplace, it’s critical to understand how and why this occurs and to continue to take steps to address the imbalance. At Accenture, a global professional services company, we have set a goal to have a gender-balanced work force by 2025. There is no shortage of examples that demonstrate how a diverse mindset leads to better results, from reports of crash test dummies that are modelled only on male bodies, to extensive academic studies on the performance improvements at firms with higher female representation. We know that diversity makes our business stronger and more innovative – and it is quite simply the right thing to do.

To make sure that AI is working to support this goal, it’s imperative to know how thought leaders, programmers and developers can use AI to fix the problem.

The issue matters because Canadian workplaces still suffer from gender inequality. Analysis by the Canadian Press earlier this year found that none of Canada’s TSX 60 companies listed a woman as its chief executive officer, and two-thirds did not include even one female among their top earners in their latest fiscal year.

Add to this the reports about behaviour in the workplace that undermines the principles of diversity and inclusion. Of course, AI isn’t the cause, but it can perpetuate the problem unless we focus on solutions. AI can contribute to biased behaviour because the knowledge that goes into its algorithm-based technology came from humans. AI “learns” to make decisions and solve complex problems, but the roots of its knowledge come from whatever we teach it.

There are lots of examples showing that what we put into AI can lead to bias:

  • A team of researchers at the University of Washington studied the top 100 Google image search results for 45 professions. Women were generally under-represented in the searches, as compared with representation data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The images of women were also frequently more risqué than how a female worker would actually show up for some jobs, such as construction. Finally, at the time, 27 per cent of American CEOs were women, but only 11 per cent of the Google image results for “CEO” were women (not including Barbie).
  • In a study by Microsoft’s Ece Kamar and Stanford University’s Himabindu Lakkaraju, the researchers acknowledged that the Google images system relies on training data, which could lead to blind spots. For instance, an AI algorithm could see photos of black dogs and white and brown cats – but when shown a photo of a white dog, it may mistake it for a cat.
  • An AI research scientist named Margaret Mitchell trained computers to have human-like reactions to sequences of images. A machine saw a house burning to bits. It described the view as “an amazing view” and “spectacular” – seeing only the contrast and bright colours, not the destruction. This came after the computer was shown a sequence of solely positive images, reflecting a limited viewpoint.
  • Late last year, media reported on Google Translate converting the names of occupations from Turkish, a gender-neutral language, to English. The translator-bots decided, among other things, that a doctor must be a “he,” while any nurse had to be “she.”

These examples come from biased training data, where one or more groups may be under-represented or not represented at all. It’s a problem that can exacerbate gender bias when AI is used for hiring and human resources. Statistical biases can also exist in areas including forecasting, reporting and selection.

The bias can come from inadequate labelling of the populations within the data for example, there were too few white dogs represented in the database of the machine looking at dogs and cats. Or it can come from machines working with variables that are highly co-related but rely too much on certain types of data; for example, weeding out job candidates because their address is from a women’s dorm on campus, without realizing it was keeping out female applicants.

Gender bias can also come from poor human judgment in what information goes into AI and its algorithms. For example, a job search algorithm may be told by its programmers to concentrate on graduates from certain programs in particular geographic locations, which happen to have few women enrolled.

Ironically, one of the best ways to fix AI gender bias involves deploying AI.

The first step is to use analytics to identify gender bias in AI. A Boston-based firm called Palatine Analytics ran an AI-based study looking at performance reviews at five companies. At first the study found that men and women were equally likely to meet their work goals. A deeper, AI-based analysis found that when men were reviewing other men, they gave them higher scores than they gave to women – which was leading to women getting promoted less frequently than men. Traditional analytics looked only at the scores, while the AI-based research helped analyze who was giving out the marks.

A second method to weed out gender bias is to develop algorithms that can hunt it down. Scientists at Boston University have been working with Microsoft on a concept called word embeddings – sets of data that serve as a kind of computer dictionary used by AI programs. They’ve combed through hundreds of billions of words from public data, keeping legitimate correlations (man is to king as woman is to queen) and altering ones that are biased (man is to computer programmer as woman is to homemaker), to create an unbiased public data set.

The third step is to design software that can root out bias in AI decision-making. Accenture has created an AI Fairness Tool, which looks for patterns in data that feed into its machines, and then tests and retests the algorithms to root out bias. This includes the subtle forms that humans might not see too easily to ensure people are being fairly tested. For example, one startup called Knockri uses video analytics and AI to screen job candidates; another, Textio, has a database of some 240 million job posts, to which it applies AI to root out biased terms.

AI and gender bias may seem like a problem, but it comes with its own solution. It’s our future – developing and deploying the technology properly can take us from #MeToo to a better hashtag: #GettingToEqual.

Ottawa appointing more female judges, but bench still short of gender parity – The Globe and Mail

Good overview with the latest numbers. My tracking of women, visible minorities and Indigenous judicial appointments since 2016 is above:

The federal Liberal government has been naming women to the bench at an unprecedented rate this year, with nearly three women chosen for each man, government figures show. Of 37 judges named to federally appointed courts in 2018, 27 are women.

The boost in the appointment rate of women has been helped along by historic levels of female applicants, who make up 45 per cent of the 1,169 applicants since the Liberals established a new appointment process in October, 2016, according to the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs, which collects data on the process. That’s up from 30 per cent during the 10 years the Conservatives were in power. (Federally appointed courts include the superior courts of provinces, the Federal Court, Tax Court and the Supreme Court of Canada.)

The rapid rate of female appointments still leaves the bench well short of gender parity. The 866 full-time positions are now 39.6 per cent women, up from 36.6 per cent when the Liberals took office in November, 2015, according to figures supplied at the request of The Globe and Mail.

The government has put into effect its stated policy of having a 50-50 gender split in Cabinet. But it has never publicly stated a target for the appointment of women to the judiciary.

If it has set numerical targets for achieving a 50-50 split, it is not saying.

“All judicial appointments are made on the basis of merit, taking into account the needs of the court,” Dave Taylor, a spokesman for Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, said in an e-mail. “As we move forward, we are confident that our Government’s goal of a balanced, meritorious and diverse bench will be realized.”

Members of the legal community interviewed for this story said they believe the Liberals are stepping up efforts to bring about gender parity on the bench. Several lawyers said they welcome that effort. “As a middle-aged white guy, I’m not concerned about what might be interpreted as a disproportionate number of women who are appointed to the bench,” Halifax privacy lawyer David Fraser said in an interview. “If it takes a little bit of corrective action to get us close to a properly representative judiciary, I think it’s fine.”

During the Conservatives’ period in office, from 2006 to 2015, women made up 30 per cent of judicial appointments. The Liberals made several changes to the appointment process in 2016, including asking applicants to fill out questionnaires describing what equity and diversity mean to them. And for the first time, they asked applicants their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability status, promising to make the data public. (The judicial affairs office says it will make these more detailed figures for the second year of Liberal appointments under this process public in October. Several of the 2018 appointees are members of racial minority groups.)

The appointment process has two main stages. Applicants are screened by one of 17 judicial advisory committees made up of federal and other representatives. Then the government chooses from the list of candidates recommended or highly recommended by the committees.

Some lawyers stressed the importance of merit in judicial appointments. “I certainly support gender equity but the overriding factor has to be choosing the best candidates, as far as I’m concerned,” Andrew Rouse, a litigator in Fredericton, said in an interview.

Heather Treacy, a lawyer in Calgary, said she applauds the trend “provided it is balanced with ensuring top-quality candidates are appointed. This is less of a current concern given the increased numbers of very able females engaged in the legal profession.”

Others offered unqualified praise. “I think it’s terrific movement in the right direction,” said Brian Facey, who practices competition law in Toronto.

Rosemary Cairns Way, who teaches law at the University of Ottawa and monitors diversity in judicial appointments, said the jump in the overall proportion of women on the bench is noteworthy. It “demonstrates that achieving gender parity requires action (as opposed to faith in a ‘trickle-up’ process),” she said in an e-mail.

As for the greater proportion of women applying for the federal bench, she said, “I suspect it is because potential women applicants are more confident that the skills, experience, and expertise they present are more likely to be valued.”

via Ottawa appointing more female judges, but bench still short of gender parity – The Globe and Mail

Bagnall: Is Shopify’s board of directors too male, too white?

Good for Meriel Bradford, who I worked with in the 90s, for calling them out:

It wasn’t the question most of Shopify’s board of directors had been expecting.

The six individuals — all white, five of them male — had just concluded the business portion of the annual shareholders’ meeting Wednesday morning and had opened the proceedings to queries from ordinary shareholders.

Given what a spectacular year Shopify had just concluded — revenue in 2017 had jumped 73 per cent, pushing the share price to record levels — the directors, the stewards of the company, were anticipating a gentle time of it.

Meriel Bradford, a shareholder and retiree, was the first to grasp the microphone. She had warned Shopify’s CEO and co-founder Tobias Lütke privately what was coming, but didn’t know if he had shared this with his fellow directors.

Bradford, a former vice-president of Teleglobe and senior bureaucrat at Global Affairs and other federal departments, spoke with authority. She told the directors diversity was important for any company aspiring to be global.

“This board doesn’t have it,” she said.

Bradford had their attention. “What’s the problem and how can we help you fix it?”

Responsibility for the answer fell to John Phillips, head of the board committee responsible for finding candidates to serve as director. Phillips acknowledged the preponderance of white males on Shopify’s board before adding, “We’re constantly searching for great talent.”

It was a weak response. Bradford pressed the point. “I suggest your search technique is poor,” she said before taking her seat.

It’s difficult to deny the boardrooms of many high-tech firms lack diversity, whether it involves gender, colour or sexual orientation. But was Bradford’s assertion fair?

This newspaper examined the makeup of the boards that guide 15 companies that Shopify considers its peers, at least when it comes to the important matter of compensation for executives and directors. (These included firms such as HubSpot, Zendesk, Cornerstone OnDemand, Atlassian and Etsy, which were listed in the circular distributed in advance of Wednesday’s meeting of shareholders.)

Most of the peer firms have eight or nine directors, more than Shopify’s six, and do exhibit more diversity, especially when it comes to gender. Half of Zendesk’s eight directors are women, for instance, as is the case at Etsy.

Given that high-tech firms tend to draw heavily from the male-dominated worlds of engineering and finance for their board talent, this is all the more notable.

Just two of Atlassian’s nine board members are women but one, Shona Brown, runs the show as chair.

As for colour, well, let’s just say visible minorities in this group are generally the exception. Nevertheless, the companies do appear to be making some strides diversifying in general.

For instance, Cornerstone OnDemand, a California software firm, has nominated former Jiva Software CEO Elisa Steele to serve as chair of the board. Steele is expected to be confirmed in this role June 14.

Boston-based Wayfair, another software firm that Shopify counts among its peers, last month named Andrea Jung to its board. Jung, the former CEO of Avon Products, is a well-known pioneer for businesswomen and also serves on the board of Apple.

Five weeks ago, another Boston-based software peer, HubSpot, revealed that India-born, Brazilian-raised entrepreneur Avanish Sahai had joined the firm’s directors.

At the conclusion of Shopify’s shareholders’ meeting at the firm’s Elgin Street headquarters, Bradford chatted amiably with fellow shareholders. A couple of Shopify employees came by to introduce themselves, but none from management or the board. “It surprises me that no one is reaching out,” she said referring to the top guns.

It’s perhaps less puzzling if you examine the detail of the management circular distributed in advance of the meeting.  In it, there’s a section that deals with the company’s policy on diversity. It notes the board of directors “values diversity of abilities, experience, perspective, education, gender, background, race and national origin.”  When considering nominees for the board, the policy reads, “diversity is taken into consideration. Currently, one of our six directors (Gail Goodman) is a woman.”

Bradford’s point was simply that Shopify can do better than that.

Source: Bagnall: Is Shopify’s board of directors too male, too white?

Detained Saudi womens’ activists branded as traitors – The Globe and Mail

So much for MBS’s efforts to present an image of reform:

Just weeks before Saudi Arabia is set to lift its ban on women driving, the kingdom’s state security said Saturday it had detained seven people who are being accused of working with “foreign entities.” Rights activists say all those detained had worked in some capacity on women’s rights issues, with five of those detained among the most prominent and outspoken women’s rights campaigners in the country.

Pro-government media outlets have splashed their photos online and in newspapers, accusing them of betrayal and of being traitors.

The women activists had persistently called for the right to drive, but stressed that this was only the first step toward full rights. For years, they also called for an end to less visible forms of discrimination, such as lifting guardianship laws that give male relatives final say on whether a woman can travel abroad, obtain a passport or marry.

Their movement was seen as part of a larger democratic and civil rights push in the kingdom, which remains an absolute monarchy where protests are illegal and where all major decision-making rests with the king and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Some state-linked media outlets published the names of those detained, which include Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef and Eman al-Najfan.

Rights activists who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussion say Madeha al-Ajroush and Aisha al-Manae are also among the seven detained. Both took part in the first women’s protest movement for the right to drive in 1990, in which 50 women were arrested for driving and lost their passports and their jobs.

All five women are well-known activists who agitated for greater women’s rights. Several of the women were professors at state-run universities and are mothers or grandmothers.

The Interior Ministry on Saturday did not name those arrested, but said the group is being investigated for communicating with “foreign entities,” working to recruit people in sensitive government positions and providing money to foreign circles with the aim of destabilizing and harming the kingdom.

The stunning arrests come just six weeks before Saudi Arabia is set to lift the world’s only ban on women driving next month.

When the kingdom issued its royal decree last year announcing that women would be allowed to drive in 2018, women’s rights activists were contacted by the royal court and warned against giving interviews to the media or speaking out on social media.

Following the warnings, some women left the country for a period of time and others stopped voicing their opinions on Twitter.

As activists were pressured into silence, Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old heir to the throne stepped forth, positioning himself as the force behind the kingdom’s reforms.

Human Rights Watch says, however, the crown prince’s so-called reform campaign “has been a frenzy of fear for genuine Saudi reformers who dare to advocate publicly for human rights or women’s empowerment.”

“The message is clear that anyone expressing skepticism about the crown prince’s rights agenda faces time in jail,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Last year, Prince Mohammed oversaw the arrests of dozens of writers, intellectuals and moderate clerics who were perceived as critics of his foreign policies. He also led an unprecedented shakedown of top princes and businessmen, forcing them to hand over significant portions of their wealth in exchange for their freedom as part of a purported anti-corruption campaign.

In an interview with CBS in March, he said that he was “absolutely” sending a message through these arrests that there was a new sheriff in town.

Activists say writer Mohammed al-Rabea and lawyer Ibrahim al-Mudaimigh, two men who worked to support women’s rights campaigners, are also among the seven detained. Al-Mudaimigh defended al-Hathloul in court when she was arrested in late 2014 for more than 70 days for her online criticism of the government and for attempting to bring attention to the driving ban by driving from neighbouring United Arab Emirates into Saudi Arabia.

Those familiar with the arrests say al-Hathloul was forcibly taken by security forces earlier this year from the UAE, where she was residing, and forced back to the kingdom.

In recent weeks, activists say several women’s rights campaigners were also banned from travelling abroad.

Immediately after news of the arrests broke, pro-government Twitter accounts were branding the group as treasonous under an Arabic hashtag describing them as traitors for foreign embassies.

The pro-government SaudiNews50 Twitter account, with its 11.5 million followers, splashed images of those arrested with red stamps over their face that read “traitor” and saying that “history spits in the face of the country’s traitors.”

The state-linked Al-Jazirah newspaper published on its front-page a photo of al-Hathloul and al-Yousef under a headline describing them as citizens who betrayed the nation.

Activists told the AP that some in the group were arrested on Tuesday and at least one person was arrested Thursday. They say the detainees were transferred from the capital, Riyadh, to the city of Jiddah for interrogations where the royal court has relocated for the month of Ramadan.

Activists say it’s not clear why the seven have been arrested now.

via Detained Saudi womens’ activists branded as traitors – The Globe and Mail

Women in tech gain experience but their pay gap with men gets worse – Recode

Scope for more analysis here to explain the growing disparity beyond the possible explanation of more balance between work and family:

The pay disparity between women and men is often framed as a difference in experience. But women actually miss out on pay as they gain experience, according to new data from tech job platform Hired.

Within the first two years of working in a tech job, women in the U.S. ask for and receive 98 percent of what their male counterparts make in the same job at the same company, according to the report.

Over time, that disparity grows.

On average, women with seven to 10 years of experience, for example, ask for about 90 cents on the dollar and are offered slightly more — 93 cents for every dollar a man is offered. Women with 13 to 14 years of experience ask for 94 cents for every dollar and receive just 92 cents.

There are a number of reasons for this gap beyond simply asking for less and in turn receiving less. Entry-level jobs usually have more clear-cut salary data, so men and women alike know what a specific position is worth. As job candidates advance in their careers, data on a position’s salary becomes spottier, and raises and promotions are not dealt out equally between men and women.

Exacerbating this is the fact that salary requests tend to be based on current salary. That means that if, say, a woman doesn’t receive the same promotions and raises as her male counterparts, she will ask for less than men in each subsequent position, compounding the salary disparity over time.

Additionally, as women get older, they’re also more likely to have children, which is also linked to lower salaries.

The situation is worse for women of color or those who identify as LGBTQ.

Black and Latina women in tech make 90 cents for every dollar a white man makes. That’s a marked improvement over last year but the gulf is still substantial.

Overall, the study found that, in the U.S., men are offered higher salaries than women for the same position 63 percent of the time. It also found that companies offer women 4 percent less than men for the same role, on average. This is basically the same as last year’s findings.

Salary data reflects base pay only and is drawn from a sample of 420,000 interview requests and job offers among 10,000 participating companies and about 98,000 job candidates. Demographics data is self-reported. Hired job seekers set a preferred salary, and companies have to include compensation information for every interview request.

via Women in tech gain experience but their pay gap with men gets worse – Recode

What Oscar-winner Frances McDormand can teach corporate Canada | Jennifer Wells

Good linkage with the failure to strengthen diversity in corporations in C-25 Canada Business Corporations Act:

“I have two words for you: inclusion rider.”

If there was a single indelible moment at the 90th Academy Awards celebration Sunday, it was the fierce Frances McDormand wrapping up her winning best actor speech with a call to arms to A-list entertainers with the power to effect change.

There was a great deal of clapping and cheering and, according to Twitter, a great many people wondering: what’s an inclusion rider?

It’s worth viewing Stacy Smith’s TED talk for the answer. Smith is a social scientist who teaches in the communication and journalism school at the University of Southern California. In a clear and swift 15 minutes she takes her audience through a set list of really dispiriting data. In what she deems the “inclusion crisis in Hollywood,” Smith’s statistics include this fact: not quite a third of movie roles go to women. (To qualify for inclusion in the data set, the actor needs to speak but a single word through the entire script.) Surprised? No, of course not. But Smith extrapolates this data to conclude that much has not changed in a half century.

How about power? Auditing 800 films between 2007 and 2015, Smith and her researchers found only 4.1 per cent were directed by women. A total of three films were directed by black or African-American women. One lone film was directed by an Asian woman. The traits of leadership (commanding a crew, being a “visionary”) are seen to be male in nature, industry insiders confided. Hence the results, as Smith said in her talk, “pull male.” Left alone to its own devices, Hollywood does not change.

What does this remind us of?

That’s right, corporate Canada. As it happens, the Academy Awards came just days after the Senate voted down a proposed amendment to Bill C-25, that is, the Act to amend the Canada Business Corporations Act (and that of co-operatives and not-for-profits, too). That sounds like multiple acts and multiple amendments. The point to glean is this: in hauling the Act into the modern era a group of senators supported the view that publicly traded corporations be compelled to set internal targets to boost diversity, the very ethos of the governing Liberals. The Senate voted against the amendment, 37 to 30, in third reading last Wednesday.

Let’s think about this. Corporations would not be compelled to reach targets by a set date. Corporations would be free to establish for themselves time-lines for the increase of four under-represented groups: women, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and visible minorities. This is a step beyond the “comply-or-explain” declarations of diversity policy. As Senator Paul Massicotte pointed out in tabling the amendment, even with the comply-or-explain rule introduced by the Ontario Securities Commission, the progress of women in leadership roles has been unsatisfactory, budging modestly in board representation, and even more modestly in senior management positions.

Phrased another way, asking nicely doesn’t work.

The result: just as Stacy Smith’s work shows that Hollywood does not reflect the real world, so too corporate Canada.

In supporting the amendment Senator Ratna Omidvar made the case clearly: “This amendment does not ask anyone to climb Mount Everest. It asks for targets, the targets are voluntary, the corporations can set these according to their own history, their own context, their own region and their own industry. This is common business practice.”

The non-partisan bill nevertheless placed Massicotte’s supporters in one corner, and bill sponsor Howard Wetston in the opposing corner. Wetston, readers may recall, is the past chair of the Ontario Securities Commission.

Citing in part Canada’s fragmented securities landscape (can’t we fix that already?), Wetston supported the comply-or-explain model as a “legitimate choice to address diversity at the board and executive level in Canada.” Government can do more within that model, Wetston said in addressing the chamber last week. “They can provide guidelines. They can get the director of corporations candidate to do more. There can be more outreach. Basically, these categories allow for a great deal of opportunity by the government to do more within this model if it so chooses.”

In an interview, Omidvar wonders if part of the failure lies in a lack of clarity. “The lesson I take out of this is that we must do much better at explaining our point of view and making it extremely clear to people that our amendment would not have forced corporations to have quotas,” she says. “Our amendment was simply moving them toward a mature approach to developing strategies. We were told these business corporations have so much work, they can’t do this. That’s not true. Any business corporation that comes under this act is big enough to have people and departments who are devoted to human resources, change management, long-term planning.”

The distinction between the two positions is clear: a soft tap on the shoulder (Omidvar’s description of C-25 as written) and a firm nudge. It goes without saying that the senator is disappointed by the outcome, especially given the aspirations — the brand — of the government of the day.

Stacy Smith had a few suggestions to redress the historic and intractable imbalance in Hollywood. “Just Add Five,” was one, in which scriptwriters would up the presence of roles for women, five at a time. That strategy, Smith concluded, could achieve gender parity in casting in three years. So, goal setting. But remember, a “role” is defined as a single spoken word.

More powerfully, A-list actors could insist on inclusion riders in their contracts, and start to dictate directly how to fix the diversity gap.

That’s what Frances McDormand was advocating.

In corporate environments, this could be a call to arms. Does any incoming A-list CEO have the nerve to insist upon a diversity rider? Now that would be progressive. Ground-breaking, even.

In the meantime, the amendment-sponsoring senators will be stuck monitoring what progress is made as a result of C-25. I’m not holding my breath.

via What Oscar-winner Frances McDormand can teach corporate Canada | Toronto Star

In the age of #MeToo, Muslim women are final­ly break­ing the chains of si­lence: Sheema Khan

Another good column by Sheema Khan:

As the #MeToo move­ment rico­chets through many parts of the world, it has yet to achieve high visi­bil­ity in Muslim cul­tures.

None­the­less, there have been a few laud­able ef­forts to bring sex­ual abuse to the fore­front.

Re­cent­ly, Mona Eltahawy lent her in­flu­en­tial voice to the dis­turbing oc­cur­rence of sex­ual ha­rass­ment at the Kaa­ba, (in Mecca), Islam’s hol­i­est site, through the hashtag #MosqueMeToo. One of the rit­uals of pil­grim­age (both the hajj and umrah) re­quires circ­ling the Kaa­ba sev­en times, while in sol­emn re­mem­brance of God. At times, it can get very crowded. Many women have ex­peri­enced hu­mili­a­tion by men who use the situ­a­tion to grope, poke and fon­dle. Ms. Eltahawy shared her awful ex­peri­ence, when at the age of 15, a guard at the Kaa­ba grabbed her breast. She wrote in sup­port of Sabica Khan, who dis­closed her re­cent hu­mili­a­tion at the Kaa­ba — and en­dured back­lash on so­cial media. Since then, many women have shared their own har­rowing en­coun­ters – for­cing the issue out into the open.

In Pak­istan, fol­lowing the grue­some rape and mur­der of 7-year-old Zainab An­sari, many women came for­ward to tell of their own stor­ies of sex­ual abuse as chil­dren. 73-year-old fash­ion de­sign­er Maheen Khan – a Pak­istani icon – tweeted about sex­ual im­pro­pri­ety by her Koran teach­er her when she was six. A nas­cent #MeToo move­ment is be­gin­ning to make in­roads in con­serv­a­tive Pak­istan, as cour­age­ous women break the chains of shame and si­lence.

There are a num­ber of chal­len­ges fa­cing Muslim women who seek to speak out. These in­clude cul­tur­al and in­sti­tu­tion­al bar­riers (with­in com­mun­ities), and anti-Muslim senti­ment.

Cul­tur­al­ly, pub­lic dis­cus­sion of sex is ta­boo. Yet this is at odds with scrip­tur­al foun­da­tions of the faith. For ex­ample, the Proph­et Mohammed em­pha­sized the right of women to ex­peri­ence sex­ual pleas­ure. In these sources, one finds dis­cus­sion about wet dreams, cli­max and for­bid­dance of inter­course dur­ing men­stru­a­tion and anal sex (at all times). The dis­course is not sal­acious, but in­stead pro­vides guid­ance to the faith­ful. It also builds a frame­work in which sex­ual re­la­tions are seen as nat­ural and a means to cul­ti­vate mercy, love and tranquility be­tween spouses.

Family and clergy are two power­ful in­sti­tu­tions that si­lence women. Rath­er than put­ting shame and re­spon­sibil­ity on sex­ual abus­ers, the onus is placed on the vic­tims to keep quiet, so that the fam­ily’s honour re­mains in­tact. In com­mun­ities in which inter­action be­tween gen­ders is pri­mar­i­ly with­in ex­tended fam­ilies, there are ample op­por­tun­ities for abuse by male rela­tives. When I used to give lec­tures about “women in Islam,” it was de­press­ing­ly com­mon to have a young woman ap­proach me after­ward to con­fide her pain­ful abuse by a cous­in or an uncle dur­ing child­hood. I stopped giv­ing these lec­tures after one young woman broke down about her own fath­er’s in­ces­tu­ous behaviour.

Muslim clergy, schol­ars and Koran teachers gar­ner rev­er­ence for their com­mit­ment to the faith. There­fore, im­pugning sex­ual im­pro­pri­ety against this group is met with stiff re­sist­ance, de­nial and back­lash. Yet, with­out mean­ing­ful ac­count­abil­ity, abuse does hap­pen. Now, women are speak­ing out. In 2016, a prom­in­ent Chicago-based schol­ar, Moham­med Sa­leem, pleaded guilty to sex­ual­ly abus­ing a for­mer stu­dent and an em­ploy­ee at the school he founded. More civil suits are pend­ing. Last year, re­nowned Ko­ran­ic schol­ar Nouman Ali Khan was found to have com­mit­ted spirit­ual abuse and un­ethical behaviour to­ward a num­ber of young women. Last month, Ox­ford University Pro­fes­sor Ta­riq Rama­dan was placed under ar­rest in France, and is awaiting trial against rape char­ges by two women. He de­nies any wrong­doing.

In addi­tion to fa­cing com­mun­ity back­lash for speak­ing out, Muslim women must also con­tend with haters who use their pain to ma­lign an en­tire com­mun­ity.

These hur­dles are not in­sur­mount­able. The time has come to ad­dress sex­ual im­pro­pri­ety head-on.

In Canada, se­cond “se­cret” mar­riages are oc­cur­ring, in which a man takes on a se­cond wife, often un­be­knownst to either wife. This is noth­ing but san­i­ti­za­tion of an extra­mari­tal af­fair. It is a sham, and needs to be called out by the Can­ad­ian Council of Imams.

Last fall, the group Fa­cing Abuse in Community En­viron­ments was launched to hold ac­count­able imams, schol­ars and lead­ers for un­ethical and/or crim­in­al behaviour. A num­ber of in­ves­ti­ga­tions are under way, with ser­ious cases re­ferred to law en­force­ment for pros­ecu­tion.

In the end, we need to em­pow­er women to come forth with­out shame, and put the spot­light on men to take re­spon­sibil­ity for their behaviour.

via In the age of #MeToo, Muslim women are final­ly break­ing the chains of si­lence – The Globe and Mail

New ’pay transparency’ bill from Ontario government aims to close gender wage gap

Always good to have more and better data. However, hard to understand the need in the Ontario public service given salary scales already in place and wonder whether existing mechanisms like the Census are being used and analyzed as effectively as possible to identify more precisely the gaps before adding yet another reporting requirement:

Ontario plans to introduce legislation Tuesday that aims to close the wage gap between women and men in the province.

If passed, the “pay transparency” bill would require all publicly advertised job postings to include a salary rate or range, bar employers from asking about past compensation and prohibit reprisal against employees who do discuss or disclose compensation.

It would also create a framework that would require large employers to track and report compensation gaps based on gender and other diversity characteristics, and disclose the information to the province.

The pay transparency measures will begin with the Ontario public service before applying to employers with more than 500 employees. It will later extend to those with more than 250 workers.

The government says it will spend up to $50 million over the next three years on the initiative.

Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne is expected to announce the legislation — called Then Now Next: Ontario’s Strategy for Women’s Economic Empowerment — during a Women’s Empowerment Summit at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

“We know that too many women still face systemic barriers to economic advancement,” Wynne said in a statement. “It’s time for change.”

According to the province, the gender wage gap has remained stagnant over the past 10 years, with women earning approximately 30 per cent less than men.

The government said it looked to other jurisdictions to create the basis of its legislation, including existing laws in Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Wynne has made the themes of fairness and opportunity key planks of her bid for re-election this spring, pitching policies like the province’s increase to minimum wage and expansion of drug coverage for people aged 25 and under as part of those efforts.

Gender gap shows high-tech sector still stuck in the past — and it could prove costly [immigration numbers as well]

The article focusses on the ongoing gender gap in tech. However, the report (The Digital Talent Dividend) has the above chart showing the large share of immigrants. Unfortunately, there is no breakdown by group but unlikely to differ from other surveys of diversity in tech (strong representation of Asian visible minorities, weak representation of Blacks):

via Gender gap shows high-tech sector still stuck in the past — and it could prove costly – Technology & Science – CBC News

Gender persecution the top reason women seek asylum in Canada

More from the CBC analysis of IRB data (see Acceptance rate for asylum seekers in Canada at a 27-year high – Canada – CBC News):

A CBC News investigation reveals more than 15 per cent of female asylum seekers who arrived in this country in the past five years said they did so to escape persecution for being a woman. It’s the most common reason women seek refuge in Canada, ahead of religious, ethnic or political persecution.

Gender persecution includes practices such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation, as well as domestic abuse at the hands of a partner or family member, which accounted for half of the claims in the data obtained by CBC.

The Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) decided on nearly 3,000 domestic violence claims between 2013 and 2017, accepting 58 per cent of them.

Claims based on domestic violence are, like all refugee claims, assessed based on two elements: the risk an individual faces and to what degree they can be protected in their home country, said Catherine Dauvergne, dean of the University of British Columbia’s Peter A. Allard Law School and an expert in refugee and migration law.

“In cases of domestic violence, or really any persecutory harm which happens in the private sphere, the analysis almost always ends up focusing on what kind of state protection is available,” she said.

“The high number of claims that you’re seeing in this dataset is really reflective of the lack of organized, regular, reliable, dependable protection for women in all sorts of places around the world.”Nigeria was the source of the highest number of gender-based claims from women, as well as domestic violence claims, specifically.

In many parts of Nigeria, people believe women should be subservient to men, said Comfort Ero, a Nigerian-Canadian author and women’s rights advocate.

A woman who goes to the police to report domestic abuse would typically be sent home, Ero said, and even chastised by police for betraying her husband.

via Gender persecution the top reason women seek asylum in Canada – Canada – CBC News