Even with the progress made over the last decade for rights to parental leave, making tradeoffs between career and starting or expanding their families continues to be an issue for many people across Ontario. While more and more workplaces accept their male employees’ rights to parental leave, women still face subtle and not-so-subtle obstacles balancing their work and family aspirations.
Among such parents is local boxer and mother of one, Mandy Bujold, who fought and won for her right to represent Canada at the Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo, Japan. Last year, Bujold took her case to arbitration with the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland to allow her competitions from before her maternity leave to be used to qualify her for a spot on the 2021 Canadian Olympic boxing team.
The COVID-19 pandemic did more than force the Olympic Games to be postponed for a year. Rolling shutdowns due to the pandemic resulted in many qualifying events being cancelled, including the regional qualifiers for boxing that Bujold has been training for over the last four years.
With the qualifying events cancelled, the organizing committee created a new set of qualifying criteria based on scores from events before the pandemic. For Bujold, these were events that she missed while she was pregnant with her daughter.
“That’s where my issue is. Those events in the past were not meant to be qualifying events. Had I known that at the time, then that’s on me to make that decision on if I was going to have a child at that time,” she said.
Both the men’s and women’s qualifying events were cancelled due to the pandemic, but the criteria for qualifying based on past events were different for the genders. For female boxers, points were awarded for events from an 11 month period, while men’s events from 2017 to 2019 were used for qualifying. Bujold fought in 2017, and so she could have been considered had the rules been the same for men and women or even for different continents.
“In Paris they’re having the European qualifier,” Bujold said.
“We’re the only continent that doesn’t have the opportunity to actually step in the ring…It’s the same organization, the same people making these decisions. But they’re saying okay, it’s safe for them to box but it wasn’t safe for us to box.”
She has received support from across Canada and the world. Locally, she has Kitchener mayor, Berry Vrbanovic, in her corner.
“It was unfathomable that in today’s day and age, the Olympic Games that tries to pride itself on equity and diversity is creating an environment that is penalizing an elite athlete because she gave birth to a child,” Vrbanovic said.
“Those are choices that they shouldn’t have to make. You should be able to be an elite athlete and be a new parent.”
Vrbanovic is no stranger to fighting policies that cause challenges for working parents. For example, in 2013, Vrbanovic worked with councillor Kelly Galloway-Sealock and Kitchener Centre MPP Daiene Vernile to update the province’s Municipal Act to clarify how paternity and maternity leave applied to elected officials.
Without the changes, an elected official of a municipal government could potentially be removed from office if they were on leave or even if they were ordered to go on bed rest.
“The council could actually remove her from office if she were absent for more than three months…We got the legislation changed to prevent that from happening and to give new parents the ability to take parental leave,” Vrbanovic said.
Bujold filed a challenge to the qualification changes and on June 30, 2021, the court ruled in Bujold’s favour that the criteria must include accommodation for women who were pregnant or postpartum during the qualification period.
“Hopefully, we can continue the conversation with governing bodies and try to make that change because this is [about] more than just boxing. There’s always been that stigma for female athletes of choosing to have a career and then your family.”
Bujold said those attitudes are starting to shift across the sports world. With more women athletes having children during their careers, she hopes that inspires young girls to know they can pursue their athletic dreams.
“I think it’s always been a conversation because your body is your tool. So you always have to think about how long [recovery is] and am I going to be able to come back to the same point that I was at before,” Bujold said.
Alex Kinsella is a freelance content marketer and writer based in Waterloo Region, Ontario. He's behind the TL;WR newsletter–Waterloo Region's weekly events newsletter. He's worked with some of Canada's most well known tech companies in roles including customer success, development, product management, PR, social media and marketing. Alex has contributed to publications including BetaKit, Grand Magazine and more.