Women still face educational barriers - Macleans.ca

Women still face educational barriers

Don’t put away female only scholarships just yet.


In his Feb 22 article, Josh Dehaas asserts “to claim that women are at a disadvantage in school is absurd.” The more absurd reality is policy-makers are more likely to listen to his argument than to look at the facts.

He argues women are now equal, and affirmative action scholarships no longer necessary. Well, it’s great that his woman friend received one, but I meet an awful lot of women students each semester who don’t. I don’t generally ask them why they aren’t part of this mythical horde of privileged women we hear about these days, but the more I get to know them, the more I realize some of the reasons why. And I realize that as long as we live in a society where women are more likely to be sexually assaulted, to be victims of severe forms of violence, to earn less than men, and to be the ones heading up single-parent households, they’re going to face barriers to their education that men don’t. I’ve gotten some fine scholarships over the years. Then again, I didn’t have to face those life situations I just listed.

Dehaas and his friends’ informal tallies tell them there are more women than men in their journalism classes. On the other side of the academy, Engineers Canada reports that “the enrolment of women in undergraduate engineering programs increased until the year 2000. The number of women enrolled in undergraduate engineering programs has since leveled off and there are signs of a decline in the percentage of women pursuing engineering in relation to men. Currently, less than 20 percent of undergraduate engineering students in Canada are women.”

Don’t put those scholarships away yet.

More women enrolling in university doesn’t mean we’ve beaten inequality and discrimination. All it means is there’s more women enrolling. That’s a good start.  But it’s little more than a start. Women still earn 70 per cent of male earnings. Why does this matter? Because that means when men and women try to put themselves through university, women wind up 30 per cent  more in debt. Add in the fact that the majority of single-parent households are headed by women, and they’re even more in debt if they have children. Suddenly those scholarships make a whole lot of sense.

But aren’t things getting better, as Dehaas’—very selectively chosen—statistics seem to suggest? Well let’s not just look at his handful of success stories: let’s look at the big picture. The Canadian Federation of Professional and Business Women’s Clubs states the wage gap for university-educated women has actually increased by seven per cent during the last decade—to the detriment of women.

Status of Women Canada drew on Canada Student Loans Program data to learn that between 1996 to 2002, the percentage of loans obtained by women has increased (by over five per cent) and decreased for men (by over five per cent). That means women are bearing a significantly larger portion of debt in this country. This also indicates a growing—rather than decreasing—employment income gap between female and male university graduates to women’s disadvantage.

A 2001 study that appeared in the journal, Canadian Public Policy, calculated projections into the future that suggest a wage gap of 22 per cent will still exist in 2031. And those are the rosier stats.

Don’t put those scholarships away yet. And while Mr. Dehaas may have more female classmates, women comprise less than a third of his university’s Senate.

The upshot of all this is that the absurdly simplistic notion that greater female enrolment equals greater equality in Canada is, well, patently absurd. The same day his article was published, a submission to the United Nations on equality in Canada indicated our country has slipped from 47 to 49 in world rankings for gender equality. That’s a serious fail. Until we start achieving real substantive equality, and stop sliding backward, women will remain disadvantaged and discriminated against in this country. Until men stop feeling threatened by efforts to make society equal, we’re not going to start making the progress we need.

So when I encounter a man who complains about being passed over for a scholarship, I ask him to look at the big picture. Women have suffered centuries of violence, exploitation and abuse while men have dominated society for over 2000 years. Enjoy your 30 per cent higher salary, and your statistically greater chance of becoming a CEO, or successful lawyer, or Member of Parliament. Not because you’re smart, but because you’re male.

Hans Rollman is a PhD student in Women’s studies at York University.

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Women still face educational barriers

  1. Great article, thanks.

  2. Of course men make more than women on average. How many women do you find in dangerous, high-paying, high-stress jobs such as construction or mining or oilrigs? I’d argue most woman have absolutely no interest in subjecting themselves to the demands of that type of job. Maybe there’s no women in Engineering because They. Don’t. Want. To.

  3. “between 1996 to 2002, the percentage of loans obtained by women has increased (by over five per cent) and decreased for men (by over five per cent). That means women are bearing a significantly larger portion of debt in this country”

    So let me get this straight, because more women are enrolled in school, doesn’t it make sense more women will be in debt more??? It doesn’t matter men or women, it means those who want an education have the option of borrowing money to go to school. It means women are catching up to men in terms of eligibilty of enrollment, isn’t this a good thing. Whoever choses to go to school must pay the tuition. Single women become single because their relationship ended, which means men are single parents too. Not all women are single parents, men are too and not all men abandon their kids leaving them to the women.

    My parents divorced when I was young, I borrowed $25K from OSAP, being a male I owe student loans. My girlfriend has two degrees, twice the debt, makes just as much as me, why is she twice as much in debt, because her first degree didn’t help her find a job. This was her choice, not because women are at a disadvantage. horay for her right to chose and have the option to borrow money, unlike other countries in the world who don’t even allow women to learn how to read compared to my GF who has two degree’s.

    I’m all for improving society but please this article is full of twisted views that really do not reflect today’s realities.

  4. I am not the least bit suprised by this complete drivel, considering it comes from a Women’s studies student at York.

    First let me expose two blantant lies contained in the above joke of an article. Female University students DO NOT earn 70% of what male University students earn, as is implied in your joke of an article. If they do, cite the study that supports this absurd assertion. Go ahead. I dare you. Lie #2: female univerity students are NOT more likely than men to be victims of violence. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health confirms that male University students are far more likely to be the victims of physical abuse.

    Now on to your blatant cherry-picking. The way you cheerry-pick your facts is astrounding, even by lax York standards. Resorting to enrollment in engineering to “prove” your case? Completely laughable. Did you not bother to research overall enrollment (dominated by women)? Did you not bother to research overall post-grad enrollment (again, dominated by women)? Did you not bother to research post-grad enrollment at York in particular (where women are VASTLY overrepresented)?

    Lastly, your desperate attempt to paint the fact that women have been granted MORE student loan funding than men as a negative is patently absurd. Student loan funding is generally conidered a GOOD thing, you bloody fool. And you would no doubt be shrieking from the rooftops had men been granted more funding than women.

    Anyway, good luck with your completely useless degree in feminist propaganda. Hope you take comfort in the knowledge that nobody takes your school, your degree or anything you say seriously.

  5. Interesting article, but I believe that it’s a bit biased. Here are my comments:

    1) With respect to the study which claims that women make only 70% of what men earn, this is based on annual income. According to an article from the Globe and Mail, this study also concluded that men work more hours than women. Therefore, instead of comparing annual incomes, maybe we should look at the average hourly wage which would be a lot closer considering men work more hours. Also, if we consider the fact that there was more of a gender gap 40 years ago, this means that most people at senior positions (who earn more) are male because the new wave of women university graduates haven’t made their way to the upper management positions.

    2) I’ve graduated from engineering, and yes there are more men taking up engineering than women, but then again, based on my observations, there were more women learning architecture than men. This could be based on preference, and not a lack of opportunity. Also, at my work, women are paid the same as men. Our salary is based on our level and not our gender.

    3) If you claim that we should keep scholarships since women are more likely subject to violence and other issues, maybe those recieving scholarships should show proof that they’ve had to endure those issues. Not to point my finger at the author, but it seems rather selfish to claim that we should keep these scholarships based on those issues, but then again she has recieved several “fine” scholarships and admitted that she hasn’t had to go through those life situations.

  6. Too add to this, here’s the conclusion of the Globe and Mail article:


    “In Canada, a small army of people (mostly women) have built lucrative careers arguing that women in the developed world are nearly as oppressed as they are in, say, Yemen. These people belong to the worldwide web of conferences, committees, consultations, NGOs and grant-writing that are sponsored by governments, the UN and the World Economic Forum. Their assertions get good airtime, and are then incorporated into other reports, conferences and the conventional wisdom. This particular document got a free ride on the front page of the Toronto Star, where the reporter opined that Canada won’t be winning many medals from the UN for women’s equality.

    If there were no women’s issues in this country, perhaps this junk wouldn’t matter. But there are. The plight (and rights) of aboriginal women is a serious matter. The growing marriage gap between highly educated and less-educated women – and the hugely unequal life impact this has on their children – is another. Unfortunately, these issues won’t be honestly addressed so long as the old-time dogma maintains its stranglehold in academe, labour groups and public discourse. It’s hard to change the conversation when the oppression of women is such a good racket.”

    This article was written by a women.

  7. Sarah’s right. Maybe women don’t want to study engineering. Also, being an engineer myself, while in school I saw no difference between how the female and male students were taught or treated. In fact the female students that I knew were at the top of their class and well respected by both students and professors. Also, when I graduated and started as a junior engineer, I worked with other junior engineers (some of whom were female) that were paid exactly the same as me. The pay scale was based on experience and education only, whether male or female.

    Just like men, women in this country can achieve as little or as much as they put their mind to. No excuses.

  8. Exactly, pay is paid by experience and education, has nothing to do with Gender. Total nonsense this actual provides. This article might work 50 years ago but you can’t write an article in today’s environment because we have way more knowledge on information, facts and reality. It is easier to see the incorrect position this article provides because we are more informed today. Only the extreme right wing would win this argue with their peers, and their in the minority which I am ok with.

  9. Both Shaun and David make very good points, though I must say David came across like a raving idiot. The fact is, in ANY University you will find that the male:female ratio is much higher on the female side. My old University, Trent, had a 3 to 1 Female to male ratio in the year I enrolled. While this was amazing for me as a Male University student with regards to dating possibilities, I did find it a bit hard to make any Male friends. As for the jobs, I have never seen any evidence of this in ANY job I’ve ever had. Also, I might add that I am currently an unemployed IT specialist, and I cannot help but feel all this affirmative action stuff has severely hampered my ability to get another job. Being a white male is now pretty much blacklisted. Let’s face it anything which makes you take the lesser skilled worker because you have to fill a minority quota is just racism/sexism disguised.

  10. Thank you for this critical and must needed perspective. While we certainly must acknowledge (and celebrate) the increase in female enrollment in universities, we undermine this progress when we fail to acknowledge the barriers that still exist.

  11. Elle, please explain why you feel we should be celebrating gender inequality. Is inequality a good thingt as long as it benefits women? Is that the point you are making?

    And what are these “barriers” that still exist? Every “barrier” mentioned in this article has been thoroughly debunked.

  12. These were difficult comments to read0. I think the most difficult thing in life is to check your ego at the door and allow someone else’s “lift up” to be non-threatening. First, slandering Hans’ statements with insults only discredits anything else you say, because it makes you sounds like you were dumped by him on Valentine’s day. If this is the case Hans, well done.

    Second, there doesn’t need to be a study to demonstrate the contrast between women’s and men’s experience. The barriers that exist are real, but perhaps are not as tangible as they have been in the past. Women have been “given” the vote, have been “given” the right to enter previously male-dominated professions, but the issue is that until women make up a significant part of the decision-makers, decisions will not be made that reflect their lives.

    Women make up the majority of those in poverty, and often they are with children. The fact that there may be more men working more hours doesn’t compare to the amount of unpaid care-giving hours that women put in. Sometimes for children and sometimes for elderly. There are many individual cases that demonstrate that a woman can make as much as a man, but that woman should not make up for the women who are told that they cannot move any higher up in a company. Single fathers exist, however there is different responsibility involved when a woman is carrying a child. There are several months where a man can walk away and a woman cannot. Yes, men experience physical violence, however, the amount of unreported rapes, and rapes reported too late to act legally, demonstrate that women still walk in a culture of fear. I don’t think that “white males” are to be held accountable, but I do think that as people who know at least one woman, they should stand beside them. Women’s Studies is not about critiquing men and punishing them, it is about finding positive spaces of interaction where women can also feel like part of a strong people.
    The only reason anything negative would be said in response to Hans’ article, is if you are embarrassed, because you know your privilege. I am privileged as a white middle class north American female. My country and my ancestors have killed and destroyed complete languages and cultures of indigenous persons. I know I can walk into any bar and not have anyone make assumptions about my religion or my economic status.
    Hans is one of many who is speaking to you about where you stand, he is also speaking about where he stands. It’s your right to stand where you want to, but be advised that when you stand against him, you stand against your mother, your sister, your girlfriend, and any man who has the strength, intelligence and heart to stand where Hans does. You don’t have to call yourself a feminist, but know that “debunking” theories of social inequalities demonstrates the attitude that constructs and maintains these inequalities.

  13. David,
    You’re right. Hans was off in pay inequality if you consider university degrees. Women with a university degree don’t make 70% of what men with a university degree make. Women with university degrees in Canada make LESS than 70% of what men with university degrees in Canada make. According to Statistics Canada data, in 2005 (the most recent data available), women working full time with a university degree made, on average, 67.9% of what men working full time with a university degree made.

    And for Shaun, the 70% stat is actually for women working full year/full time compared to men working full year/full time.

    For anyone who is actually interested in reading these stats and some info about why they are the case (in case you really believe gender plays no role but are open to learning why it actually does play a role), I recommend the Women in the Workforce report put out by the Canadian Labor Congress. http://www.canadianlabour.ca/sites/default/files/pdfs/womensequalityreportEn.pdf (Both of my stats come from this report)

    P.S. The Globe “article” Shaun refers to is not an article. It is an editorial by Margaret Wente of all people. So, I understand why some people who want to be comfortable in their male privilege (or women who prefer to live as if oppression didn’t exist) would want to rely solely on information like this. But as I said before, if you’re actually interested in the issue, I recommend the CLC report.

  14. I’ll make some quick, unfounded, anecdotal remarks in regard to enrollment.

    You can’t simply look at overall enrollment figures or even at male dominated fields like Engineering and Computer Science, but need to look at them in relation to each other.

    Female dominated areas(education, nursing) typically come with requirements of unpaid internships that put female students at a disadvantage for paying pack student loans. Male dominated subjects, like the ones I stated above, typically come with paid internships that, if you ask any engineering student, make paying their way through school much easier.

    If you don’t think this is sexist and calculated you’re delusional. BTW, I’m a Computer Science grad so I know the advantages of male dominated fields.

  15. It still surprises me how reluctant people are to admit that women have not ‘made it’ and there is still so far to go. Instead of jumping on your “women have all the opportunities men do” wagon next time you’re confronted with this, go find out who the CEOs are of major companies; how many female PMs have we had; how many MPs are women (and then go find them and talk to them about choosing a life in politics in Canada). Do you really believe that women simply decline to take on the job, that they choose the lower-paying jobs because they’re safer/easier? Give me a break! And the idea of having women ‘prove’ they were victims of some kind before they qualify for a scholarship? If you’re in a room with 10 women, it’s likely that 4 of them have been victims of some kind of violence, sexual harassment or violence. Nearly all of them will be worried about being attacked/raped if they walk in a park late at night. Many will decide not to stay late at the library to study if they have to walk home alone. We live a different reality. Sure there’s progress, but you’re fooling yourself to think that men and women are now completely equal in our society.

  16. If there was an Olympic competition for delusional feminist rhetoric from the 1970’s, Readers Indigstion and Lynn would win the gold and silver medals. Congrats ladies!

    Sorry Justin, you finished a distant 3rd (typical male). I will give you marks for completely ignoring the fact that women now outnumber men in MANY more areas than merely education and nursing. Might be time for you to join us in 2010, buddy.

    Readers, you easily take the gold. You yammered on for 3 long paragraphs without really saying anything. Nice job! It’s good to see that the war on boys continues. I guess the fact that boys are falling further behind every year academically is cause for celebration, right ladies? Typical feminist cowards.

  17. I should note that I’m glad to see feminists openly celebrating gender inequality. It exposes them as the hypocrites most people know them to be.

    Grow a spine and stand against gender discrimination in education, from preschool to University. If you refuse to, you are standing against your fathers, brothers, and sons. Is that what you want to do? Is it?

  18. Healy, the bottom line of that flawed study you present is that men vastly outnumber women in trades, transportation, and construction jobs. Women are equal or vastly outnumber men in most job categtories, including among “professionals” (the highest status jobs in our society).

    Hence, it is not a “wage gap”, so much as it is a “choice gap”. Women continue to choose cushy office jobs over more physically demanding jobs that take place in les hospitable or safe atmospheres.

    Continuing to punish males in academia won’t fix that “problem”, if it even is a problem at all.

  19. I should also note that women have increasingly been turning down management positions due to the requirement of 24/7 availability. At my workplace, three women turned down a vacant upper management position before a fourth woman accepted it (no men were even interviewed).

    Women can’t have it both ways (although that has been a social trend the past 15 years). You can’t expect to have a cosy and cushy office job with a reasonable work/life balance and still expect to be paid more than men who risk their lives and work 18 hour days, 7 days a week.

  20. @ David

    You are entitled to your opinion (though I find your position to be amusing, at best.) However, I find you to have been extraordinarily arrogant in your ‘rebuttal’ of Hans’ article.

    My first bit of concern is the following statement: “Student loan funding is generally conidered a GOOD thing, you bloody fool.” First of all, please edit your sentence as it is patently stupid. Second of all, calling her a ‘bloody fool’ does not further your argument in the slightest. Rather, it is attacking the author rather than the argument. So David, if you have an issue with Hans’ article then I would advise you to rebut the article and refrain from attacking the author.

    My second area of concern is how you began your rebuttal: “I am not the least bit suprised by this complete drivel, considering it comes from a Women’s studies student at York.” Again David, I urge you to edit your sentences in order for you to produce a sound argument free from error. However, the most absurd function of your rebuttal is to immediately discredit Hans for being a “Women’s studies student at York.” What difference would it have made if Hans was studying Women Studies at a different university, such as Queens university or the University of British Columbia? Certainly you could give me the theoretical argument that each school maintains a dominant ideology and that some schools may or may not maintain a popular ideology when the researchers conduct various research projects. However, you immediately dismissed Hans’ article on the basis that she is a student studying specifically at YORK. You cannot rebut this since, as per your published rebuttal against Hans you are quoted as saying “The way you cheerry-pick your facts is astrounding, even by lax York standards.” Your words, whether they are direct or not, imply that being a student at York University is not something to be proud of nor is it a worthy institution to conduct research in because of its presumed ‘flaws.’

    Let me tell you something, Mr. David. Contrary to your belief, York University has established itself as a leading center for Women Studies. As well, Mr. David, York has established itself as an excellent destination for students of History, Political Science, Business, Economics, Law, and many other fields. In our 50 year history, we have been able to attract well established faculty and we have been able to contribute widely to the scholarship of the twenty-first century. With researchers such as Lorraine Code and Linda Briskin contributing to Women Studies, or Jonathan Nitzan contributing to studies in Political Economy, I find your statement that Hans should “… take comfort in the knowledge that nobody takes your school, your degree or anything you say seriously” to be absurd and patently false.

    Shame on you, David. You should have known better than to publish such a ridiculous response to Hans. It is a shame that you find yourself in a heated discussion about the plight of women (you, of course, appear to believe that this plight either doesn’t exist or does not exist to the extent Hans believes it to exist) when you don’t appear to have a handle on the facts.

    Let me be clear: I anticipate your response will be something to the extent of ‘there is no wage gap since it appears that women don’t want the occupations men want.’ Well, what about women who are marginalized not only because they are women but because they are women of colour? The issue of women and pay equity isn’t restricted to women of privileged, white descent. It is actually a much deeper issue than you are suggesting it is, Mr. David. It could potentially be the case that white women are given unlimited opportunity (please assume this only for the sake of argument), and yet it could still be true that women of colour are disadvantaged because they are both women and not white.

    Think about that. Sure, I don’t have the statistics at the moment unfortunately. However, the hot topic terms such as the ‘feminization of poverty’ that are highly debated here at York could help to rectify any perceived issue that Hans’ article may have brought on.

    Hey, its just an idea. On a side note, Mr. David, if you do decide to tackle my post and find some flaw in it then I urge you to at least learn to type a proper sentence. And if you think that I am being rude, think of it as a way to defend Hans – you had no right to call her a ‘bloody fool.’

    Thank you.

  21. PS –

    “Lie #2: female univerity students are NOT more likely than men to be victims of violence. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health confirms that male University students are far more likely to be the victims of physical abuse.”

    First of all, this doesn’t rebut Hans position. Violence can be verbal, or emotional, or physical. Again, Mr. David, think of the implications of making such a silly statement – it can, and will, be quashed.

  22. And second, I urge you to be more specific with your citations. I didn’t understand what the implications of your citation meant for dismissing Hans’ argument.

  23. I did just want to make a note of a slight error on my part…as far as I know, the gender identity of Hans is a mystery since I am unsure as to whether or not Hans is a male or female. Because of that, I do wish to omit any reference I previously made to Hans as a female since I ultimately do not know whether or not Hans is a male or a female. I know Hans as the name of the author of this article. So I apologize for my error.

  24. Okay, I apologize for the personal insults I made towards Hans and York University. The fact of the matter is that I have no exposure to either Women’s Studies or the academic culture at York. Please accept my apology. Thanks, David

  25. I’m a prof. Our university recently went through a gender pay study exercise, and sure enough, discovered that many women on faculty, who were at the same status as men were being paid less than the men.
    Same hours, same job, same level of skill, equivalent number/quality of publications. Different pay.
    All these people think that pay is equal given all other things equal. It’s not. Women are still paid less to do the same number of hours at the same jobs.
    Wake up, men–we’re 49th in the WORLD! Canada should be #1 for gender equality. It’s a fricking embarassment.

  26. Okay women are still not earning equal salaries. But they are also not victims that need to be pandered to either. What next? How about different prices to pay for gas, rent, and food too? Give me a break.