In a recent column in The Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente bemoans the state of feminism and asks why on earth women in Canada preoccupy themselves with the struggle for equality. What impoverishment, what racism, she asks? Where is the inequality for women in a country as progressive and wealthy as Canada?
If only more women had the luxury to be so blissfully unaware.
Twenty-five years after Canada ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the promise of equality still eludes many women, both here and abroad. According to a new Statistics Canada report released this week, the average earnings of employed women are still substantially lower than those of men, women make up a disproportionate share of the population with low incomes and women are much more likely than men to work part time.
The legitimacy of our economic system, i.e. the promise of capitalism, relies on women being able to participate equally with men in the labour force. In 2003, women working on a full-time, full-year basis had average earnings of $36,500, or 71 per cent what their male counterparts made. Furthermore, 38 per cent of all families headed by lone-parent mothers had incomes which fell below the after-tax Low Income Cut-Off.
In comparison, this was the case for 13 per cent of male lone-parent families and just seven per cent of non-elderly two-parent families with children. This is to say nothing about the disturbingly higher poverty rates among Aboriginal women, women of colour and immigrant women. Perhaps invisible to Margaret Wente, there is a growing low paid labour force in which immigrant and women of colour hold multiple, poorly paid jobs to make ends meet and work without job security or access to benefits. This does not look like equality to us.
Not only do women in Canada not enjoy pay equity, Canada's erratic attempts to provide quality child care have left many women scrambling. Despite the fact significant numbers of women with children are working (73.4 per cent as of 2001), only 15 per cent of child-care spaces are publicly provided. Almost a third of women in part-time jobs cited caring for children as the reason they were in part-time work.
Time spent outside of full-time employment taking care of young children results in a reduction of lifetime earnings for women with children, lost opportunities for professional advancement and lack of access to the full benefit of public programs like employment insurance and pension benefits.
For all the talk from Margaret Wente about feminists blaming others, we actually have been working hard all these years to propose innovative solutions so that women can reap the benefits of living in one of the most progressive countries in the world. Our efforts, unfortunately, have been stymied by the fact that women are still woefully under-represented in Canada's Parliament and, after this past election, constitute only 20.7 per cent of Members of Parliament in the House of Commons.
Nonetheless, we were offered a glimmer of hope this past election when all four federal party leaders, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, publicly committed to take concrete and immediate measures, as recommended by the United Nations, to ensure that Canada fully upholds its commitments to women in Canada. In so doing, they acknowledged that Canada still has more to do to meet its international obligations to women's equality.
So, I don't know about Margaret Wente, but we will be quite busy today on International Women's Day, as we are every other day, to ensure that women in Canada get their fair share.
Nancy Peckford is Director of Programs with the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA), a strategic alliance of over 50 women's organizations and human rights groups that monitors Canada's fulfillment of its international treaty obligations.
Ms. Wente asks What impoverishment? What racism? do women of today face.
There is not a single country in the world today where women have the same opportunities as men, including Canada.
Almost 70 per cent of the world's poor are women. In Canada, too, women are more likely to be poor than men, and single mothers, as a group, are the most likely to face poverty. Poverty is also more concentrated among people of colour, not only recent immigrants but also Canadian-born descendents of visible minorities.
The Gender Equity Index (GEI), developed by Social Watch, documents how countries that implement active gender-equity policies are much closer to achieving gender equality than countries like Canada. Australia, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden rank high on the gender-equity list.
It is stunning that Canada, with its unrivalled record of federal fiscal surpluses for nine years running, failed to make it to the top of this list. But there is an explanation. Instead of investing our surpluses to give women the supports they need to make it on their own -151; like quality child care, affordable housing and education, and income supports Canada's governments chose to implement a record level of tax cuts.
Sadly, it was our governments, not our feminists, who betrayed women in Canada.
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