Get Ready to Close the Gender Gap…in 2240

by | April 25, 2013
filed under Can-Con, Feminism, Politics


"Canada's gender gap 1993-2012" from "Closing Canada's Gender Gap

“Canada’s gender gap 1993-2012” from “Closing Canada’s Gender Gap

by Jarrah Hodge

A new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has given Canada a reality check: our progress on reducing the economic and political gender gap in the country is stalled to the point that it will take us over two centuries at the current rate to achieve gender equality.

CCPA Research Associate Kate McInturff used a method developed by the World Economic Forum to calculate our score in the areas of health, education, economics and politics. On the plus side, our score on education and health care are nearly perfect, but our scores for economic opportunity and participation and political representation are significantly lower.

It’s a disconnect that might not seem to make sense; you’d think the high levels of women’s educational attainment would mean more political and economic success. However, McInturff points out “ the income gap is actually greater for women with university or college degrees than it is for those with high school diplomas. Having a university degree means a higher level of income overall, yes, but it also means facing a higher level of wage discrimination.”

An even bigger drag on Canada’s overall gender equality score is the lack of women in public office and top corporate management roles. In these areas together, men outnumber women two to one. In the report, McInturff says while the fact that women take on a far greater share of childcare and housework in heterosexual families is a factor, women choosing to stay home with the kids can’t account for the full discrepancy: “Certainly there are women (and men) who are in an economic position to work less in order to spend more time with their families. But the truth is, most Canadian families don’t earn enough to allow one or more family members to choose not to work. And whether by choice or necessity, 70% of all mothers with children under the age of six are working parents.”

So we have a situation where we just don’t have a critical mass of women at the top. Only one of Canada’s top 100 CEOs is a woman and despite our record number of women Premiers, women still make up only about 25% of members in provincial legislatures. The number’s about the same federally, with even fewer women in the government caucus (about 17%).

I asked McInturff why it’s important for us to close the gap in political representation particularly. She replied:

One reason to close the gender gap in political representation is that we live in a representative democracy and the needs and interests of half the population are currently underrepresented. It is true that women don’t necessarily support gender-sensitive legislation and policies. But without female legislators and leaders the issues that disproportionately affect women tend not to be addressed at all. Women in parliament are one piece of the puzzle. The second piece is to provide more support for the community organizations that are concerned with women’s interests and needs. Not everyone wants to run for office and not everyone can. But they still need a voice.

What the report makes apparent is that the closer women get to the top of the political or corporate ladder, the greater the barriers to equality. We need to understand the barriers in order to tackle them effectively. McInturff listed a few for me:

“Running for office is expensive, it requires a great deal of time, and it subjects the candidate to intense personal scrutiny. Women’s incomes are lower than men’s incomes. They have less employment security. So they are not in as strong a position to take on the costs of running for office. Women still perform 2/3 of all unpaid household work. So they have less time to run for office. Women face sexual assault and intimate partner violence at alarming levels. When they experience violence they are blamed for their own victimization and shamed in public. So stepping into the public eye is going to feel like a bigger risk to a woman’s personal security.”

Overall the report advocates for political and financial investment into the community, political and non-profit organizations that represent the interests of women in Canada, pointing out that the 2006 change to the mandate of Status of Women Canada means it can no longer take on advocacy or research. Furthermore, the national non-governmental organizations that used to provide a forum for discussion and advocacy have largely disappeared due to financial pressure and lack of governmental support.In addition to investment in political and civil society institutions working on these issues, McInturff thinks one of the first policy changes that is needed to close the gender equality gap is around child care:

“Safe, affordable, accessible child care will go a long way to allowing women to have more time to make the choices that they want to make. Safe, affordable child care will also allow women to work more, to take more full-time and secure work, and therefor to have more economic security. Greater economic security will allow more women to leave abusive situations, because they will be able to afford to pay their rent and buy groceries.”

Let’s hope we can make our governments realize this is not something we can wait another 10 generations to fix.

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