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Opinion

Equality requires economic rights

Women still struggling to close the yawning gender gap

Fateh (left) and Daniel play in a Winnipeg daycare. Moms without a place for their kids frequently struggle to work.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES FATEH (LEFT) AND DANIEL PLAY IN A WINNIPEG DAYCARE. MOMS WITHOUT A PLACE FOR THEIR KIDS FREQUENTLY STRUGGLE TO WORK.

Fateh (left) and Daniel play in a Winnipeg daycare. Moms without a place for their kids frequently struggle to work.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/6/2015 (1271 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Countries in which women have higher levels of economic participation are seen as closing the gender gap between men and women. A report from Statistics Canada released this week shows the marked increase for women in the workplace between 1976 and 2014 in Canada, and that's a good thing.

The report suggests last year, 69 per cent of couple families have two working parents, up from 36 per cent in 1976. Move beyond the ridiculous gender-neutral language and it becomes clear: Canadian women are working, whether they have young children at home or not.

Overall, Statistics Canada says women make up 47.4 per cent of the paid workforce, but are still lagging behind men's workforce involvement of 70 per cent.

This is largely a result of increasing levels of education for women. Associate Prof. Karen Duncan from the department of family social sciences at the University of Manitoba says: "Our economy has benefited from more women in the workplace and more women with higher levels of education to contribute to the well-being of the entire country. So those are positive things."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/6/2015 (1271 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Countries in which women have higher levels of economic participation are seen as closing the gender gap between men and women. A report from Statistics Canada released this week shows the marked increase for women in the workplace between 1976 and 2014 in Canada, and that's a good thing.

The report suggests last year, 69 per cent of couple families have two working parents, up from 36 per cent in 1976. Move beyond the ridiculous gender-neutral language and it becomes clear: Canadian women are working, whether they have young children at home or not.

Overall, Statistics Canada says women make up 47.4 per cent of the paid workforce, but are still lagging behind men's workforce involvement of 70 per cent.

This is largely a result of increasing levels of education for women. Associate Prof. Karen Duncan from the department of family social sciences at the University of Manitoba says: "Our economy has benefited from more women in the workplace and more women with higher levels of education to contribute to the well-being of the entire country. So those are positive things."

According to a United Nations report, globally only half of women participate in the labour force, compared to three-quarters of men. Thus by comparison, Canada's numbers are on par with the global average in women's workforce involvement. However, Canada could and should do more to improve women's labour involvement as well as the quality of their involvement.

In 2010, the UN General Assembly created UN Women, the United Nations entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women. In April of this year, it released a progress report on women's rights, by examining public policy initiatives that help women achieve equality through economic freedom.

Included in this report was the disturbing realization inequality, alongside poverty and vulnerability, is rising across and within countries. According to UN Women, "The world is said to be more unequal today than at any point since World War II." As their report indicates, even in countries with gender-equal laws, "power inequalities between men and women" remain.

In Manitoba, there are 12,000 kids waiting to get into child care. Because of gender norms, the responsibility of caring for children falls on women's shoulders and an inability to find accessible and affordable daycare means women will stay home. Not all the time — but the majority of the time.

Thus labour-force participation for women — a marker of equality and progress — is sidelined when there's no place to put your kids while you work. Bottom line.

The issue of daycare is expected to be both a federal and provincial election issue, with political parties facing off over issues of private versus public daycare.

As the UN Women's report indicates, the use of austerity measures to cut back on public-sector spending and privatize, including in areas such as child care, means the burden of cost-cutting is more likely to be felt by women and girls.

There are other ways to improve women's working lives, as well. The wage gap continues in Canada. Canadian women make about 19 per cent less then men.

Again, this flies in the face of equality of opportunity. Part of the issue is so-called women's work has always been extremely undervalued unless it is unionized (such as teachers and nurses). Receptionists, retail clerks, secretaries and office workers are paid much less compared to similar jobs normally held by men.

Pay-equity legislation and enforcement of its principles would also go a long way to provide working women with real opportunities. The National Association of Women and the Law released a report in 2007 panning the federal pay-equity legislation in place as being too onerous on the employee and too expensive. Federally, the employee must make a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission should she feel her job is undervalued.

However, the employer has no obligation to ensure pay equity is in place. Manitoba also has pay-equity legislation in place for all its public-sector employees. Again, the act is not proactive and requires the employee to take the first step, which dilutes its effectiveness.

Finally, for women to achieve true equality in the labour force, Canada must actively work on women's representations on boards. According to a government report released in 2014, women's participation on boards for publicly traded companies has not kept up with women's labour force participation. According to the Status of Women report, "In 2012, women held 10.3 per cent of seats on Canadian boards" and just 31 per cent of federal government appointments, "including those to Crown corporations and government agencies."

This despite the fact Canadian women now make up half of the undergraduate degrees in Canada and 34.5 per cent of those enrolled in the master's of business administration degrees were given to women. Women make up 47 per cent of the business and management program students.

But a government goal of 30 per cent women on Canadian boards by 2019 is underwhelming to say the least, and there's little incentive to meet even these modest goals.

UN Women makes it clear: women's economic progress is just as important as legal and voting rights and necessary for women's equality. Despite claims to the contrary, we're still not there yet, even in Canada.

 

Shannon Sampert is the Free Press perspectives and politics editor.

shannon.sampert@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @paulysigh

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History

Updated on Thursday, June 25, 2015 at 6:51 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds fact box

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