economic inequality

BC Federation of Labour Women’s Rights Forum

Linda McQuaig, Veronica Strong-Boag and Me

by Jarrah Hodge

On Monday night I was honoured to be part of a panel at the BC Federation of Labour’s women’s rights forum during their biennial convention. The panel included Kelly Megyesi, Women’s Coordinator for the Public Service Alliance of Canada; UBC Historian Veronica Strong-Boag; and journalist/author Linda McQuaig. The topic was how women have fared economically under our current federal and provincial governments, as well as what the decline in union density means for women.

In addition to being on stage with these amazing women in front of a packed room, earlier in the day during the Women’s Rights Committee report (part of regular convention business), I’d seen so many women come forward to the microphone to share heartfelt and often heartbreaking personal stories on how they, their families, and friends have been affected by BC Liberal policies in particular. I was so moved by their honesty and courage so I went into the panel feeling excited and of course a bit nervous.

I took some notes on the panel, and I’ve also posted the text of the speech I delivered if you wanted to read that entire part.

So we started off with Veronica Strong-Boag, who gave some historical perspective to the situation we’re in today, using some of her own information and others’ research from a site called Women Suffrage and Beyond.

Strong-Boag said that she wanted to address the despair she often sees among feminist activist by telling stories of past women who have reached across boundaries and across difference to form coalitions:

“There are histories of resistance and partnerships and coalitions which I think are needed, in very dark days, to inspire us.”

She highlighted several remarkable Canadian women who have forged those histories, including Mary Ann Shadd Cary, a black woman born free in the United States who came to Canada to support the underground railroad. She also highlighted Agnes Maule Machar, a Christian socialist who wrote novels like “Roland Graeme: Knight” that tackled pressing social and political issues of the 1890s. Pauline Johnson, Flora Macdonald denison, and labour leader Grace Hartman also made Strong-Boag’s list of women reaching across boundaries. Finally, Strong-Boag cited Judy Rebick as an example of a contemporary feminist working “in this strong tradition of collaboration.”

Next, Kelly Megyesi talked about how federal government cuts are hurting women, drawing on her own experience working at an unemployment office. Megyesi pointed out that more than half of the federal government workers are women, mostly working in admin. With huge layoffs already starting, Megyesi said: “Women are losing good jobs, women are losing pensions and benefits.”

“They have decided to relocate thousands of other jobs – jobs they promised wouldn’t be affected.”

Sadly, Megyesi is one of the workers who’s been hit by that move, told that she could relocate or lose her job, even though most of her work is virtual. She said she doesn’t buy for a minute that the relocations will really save money. Megyesi made the difficult choice to refuse:

“It would have meant breaking up my family and leaving my elderly mother without any support.”

Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics 1 Comment

The Numbers Don’t Lie: Women Still Get Shortchanged

Percentage of people living in low income after tax, 1978-2009

by Roxanna Bennett

According to the Canada Human Rights Act: “It is a discriminatory practice for an employer to establish or maintain differences in wages between male and female employees employed in the same establishment who are performing work of equal value.” Appallingly, gender discrimination in the workforce is glaringly prevalent when considering the income difference between men and women. From the recently released Gender-Based Analysis Women in Canada from Statistics Canada, the number of women in the workforce has doubled to 8.1 million since 1976. Despite this growth, women are still underemployed compared to men. The disparity narrows the higher the education attainment of the employee. 77.3% of men with a university degree are employed compared to 74.7% of women with the same educational achievement, but as the education level decreases, the discrepancy widens alarmingly. For Aboriginal women, the employment rate is 53.7% compared with 60.6% of Aboriginal men. The unemployment rate in 2009 for Aboriginal women was 12.7%, almost twice the rate of non-Aboriginal women at 6.9%.

Women with children are less likely to be employed but the rate of mothers joining the work force has increased by 39.1% since 1976. Women with pre-school aged children are less likely to be employed than those with school-aged dependents, single mothers are less likely to be employed than those that are partnered. This is a shift from the 1970’s when lone female parents were more likely to be employed than those that were partnered. About 30% of single mothers who owned their accommodation spent 30% or more of their income on shelter, compared with 21% of single fathers. The following statistic is one of the most disturbing in the report: “The median net worth for lone-parent-mother families was $17,000; for lone-parent-father families, it was $80,000.” A $63, 000 difference in net worth between the genders of single parent families is despicable. 606,000 children under the age of 18 lived in low-income families in 2008; 36% of those children lived in families headed by a single woman.

The study does not address the issue of affordable childcare except to say: “Raising children entails not only child care responsibilities, but also monetary costs. One cost is the ‘family gap,’ also called the ‘child penalty’ or ‘motherhood earnings gap.’ It measures how far the earnings of women with children fall below those of women without children, other factors being equal.” Lack of affordable childcare surely contributes to lower employment rates for single parents. The study states: “Most women who work part time do so either because they do not want full-time employment or because part-time work is more appropriate for their personal situation.” This statement sounds as though the women surveyed don’t have adequate support nor the ability to work full time; not that it is their personal preference not to work full time but that their circumstance prevents them.

More women than men work part-time, another indicator that one of the core issues of the wage gap is lack of accessible childcare. In 2009, 17.2% of women worked part-time because of childcare or other responsibilities compared to the 2.3% of men who cited personal responsibilities as a reason for part-time employment. More women than men work multiple jobs, at a percentage that continues to rise while men’s numbers stay constant. Women continue to work in jobs that are considered ‘traditional’ to their gender, teaching, nursing, clerical and service occupations. 67% of women are employed in these sectors versus 31% of men. Although more women are being employed as business, managerial and financial professionals, they tend to hold lower-level managerial positions; only 31.6% are senior managers. In the sectors of engineering, mathematics and natural sciences only 22.3% of employees are women.

A Labour Force study conducted in 2007 found that men work 3.7 hours longer than women on a weekly average. Women in Canada maintains this might account for part of the difference in income between genders. In 2008 women earned an average total income of $30,100 compared to the average total income for men at $47,000. Women’s income was lower than men’s in every province and in every age group although the gap was smallest in the youngest age range: women between 16 and 19 had incomes of about 90% of men in the same age group. The wage gap is the greatest between men and women working full time in government, religion-related and social science occupations, with women earning HALF of what men earn. In the recreation, arts, culture, teaching occupations women earn about 84% of what men earn in the same jobs.

Although the number of women employed and their general earnings have increased over the years, they are nowhere near the employment and salary rates of men. If more women work part-time, juggle multiple jobs and are underemployed because of personal responsibilities, it seems unlikely that the 3.7 more hours worked by men explains the income gap. If affordable and accessible childcare was made widely available, it stands to reason that the employment numbers would change drastically. It is disheartening to know that despite strides made in equity enforcement, women are still, according to the numbers, overworked at home, have more personal responsibilities, and are paid far less than men. Without economic parity there is no true equality.

Posted on by Roxanna Bennett in Can-Con, Feminism 1 Comment