A crash course in how the feds could improve gender equality - Macleans.ca

A crash course in how the feds could improve gender equality

Anne Kingston: The real lessons in a ranking of best cities for women: that the gender gap persists across Canada—and the solutions are staring us in the face

Demonstrators attend the Women's March to protest President Donald Trump, in Montreal, Canada on January 21, 2017. Thousands of people gather in Montreal in support of women's rights as thousands are doing the same in Washington, D.C. after the inauguration of Donald Trump. (Amru Salahuddien/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Thousands of people gathered in Montreal in support of women’s rights in January, as thousands did in Washington, D.C. after the inauguration of Donald Trump (Amru Salahuddien/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released its annual analysis, The Best and Worst Places to be a Woman in Canada: “The Gender Gap in Canada’s 25 Biggest Cities. The study, now in its fourth year, is destined to garner headlines; people love to know where they rank in the big picture. Certainly a glance at the results might inspire women who live in Victoria, Gatineau, Que., and Hamilton, Ont. (ranked first, second and third, respectively) to celebrate. Likewise, women in Barrie, Ont., Oshawa, Ont., and Windsor, Ont. (ranked at the bottom at 23rd, 24th, and 25th) might consider plotting their escape.

Not so fast. A deeper read of the report indicates that yes, some places may be better for women, but there’s no escaping the gender gap. Inequities exist right across the country, Kate McInturff, a senior researcher at CCPA, tells Maclean’s. For one, Canadian women are underemployed (more than 670,000 women work part-time involuntarily). Women earn less than men, even when they have the same education, experience and work in the same field. Women also put in an extra 10 hours of unpaid work, on average, often due to of inadequate childcare. Females are also more likely than males to be the victims of violent crime, according to Statistics Canada.

McInturff puts it in perspective: “This isn’t about whose city is richest and whose economy is best and whose is doing worse. This is about whether men and women have equal access to goods and well-being compared to each other, given what is available in that city.” She’s interested in trends, even though they don’t feed into the scores of the individual cities: “Are things getting better? Is the wage gap getting smaller? Is the employment gap getting smaller? Are poverty rates going up or down?” she says. “It’s to provide context and to make the point that we really aren’t seeing progress in some cases at the local level; we’re actually seeing things getting worse.”

McInturff, director of CCPA’s initiative on gender equality and public policy, Making Women Count, assessed a number of variables (access to economic security, personal security, education, health, and leadership positions) employing methodology used by major international gender-equity studies; she also added a “violence against women” category. Statistics on this at the local level are poor, she says, limited to police reporting, which is notoriously incomplete; only one in 20 sexual assaults are reported; of that paltry five per cent, 19 per cent are deemed “unfounded,” meaning the police decided there wasn’t a crime to investigate. Still, it’s a crucial indicator: CCPA’s studies indicate violence against women affects over a million Canadian women.

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“Statistics will never be a substitute for the full experience of lives lived,” McInturff writes. But they do provide a roadmap: both insight into where fault lines exist—and where policy helps. In conversation with Maclean’s, McInturff explains some of the report’s findings and what policy changes, in her opinion, would  make Canada a better place for all women to live.

Why Gatineau ranks second and Ottawa, a 15-minute drive away, ranks 11th:

“Gatineau does significantly better than Ottawa in electing women to office at all levels and putting them in leadership positions,” McInturff says. “Ottawa needs to step up.” Both cities benefit from a large public-sector employer—the federal government—which helps with economic security, she says. “More women are in full-time work; the wage gap is smaller. Also, the public sector is unionized, she points out; extensive research across high-income countries shows the presence of a union makes a big difference in narrowing the wage gap and the employment gap.”

Why Quebec outperforms in terms of the gender gap:

Five words: universal accessible and affordable childcare. “It’s the number one lever that the government has to improve women’s economic well-being,” McInturff says. Since Quebec instituted its subsidized child-care system in 1997, over 140,000 single mothers have moved out of poverty, she says, adding that access to daycare is seen to be a reason why women’s employment in Quebec held steady after the 2008-09 global recession, while it declined in other provinces. She points to a recent OCED paper that indicates that, outside of Quebec, Canadian women experience a net loss in household income when they go back to work and put their youngsters in child care.

Currently, the federal government is at the end of negotiations with the provinces for child-care funding. “It is encouraging that they’ve committed funding,” McInturff says. “It is discouraging that they’re not as ambitious as they could be and are not aiming for a universally subsidized national child-care program.”

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Quebec also has proactive pay equity legislation on the table, McInturff says. At the federal level, a special parliamentary committee on pay equity issued its report a year ago; the government committed to tabling legislation in 2018. “I don’t know why we’re waiting for 2018, but better late than never,” McInturff says. “The coming year will show us if the government is prepared to put forward policies to address those gaps.”

Five actions the government could take to improve gender equality:

  1.  Allocate significant funds to women’s organizations. The $18 million currently allocated to Status of Women Canada annually is “puny,” says McInturff; it amounts to one one-hundredth of one per cent of total federal program spending and is a figure that hasn’t changed in a decade. “It’s great the [Liberal] government said, ‘We’re going to fund advocacy,’ ” she says. “But there’s no new money.” She’d like to see funding rise to $100 million annually. It’s affordable, she says: “I calculated the difference it would make in our debt-to-GDP ratio and you would have to go out many, many decimal points to see that even have minimal impact on our economic indicators. History shows that funding women’s organizations is the best means to increase gender equality and improve women’s lives, McInturff points out. A $100-million fund in the Netherlands helped reshape public policy at the national level in 46 countries, influenced local governments and improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of women. It’s a model that is easily transferrable to Canada, she says. The country should employ the lessons learned from its successful feminist foreign policy in the ‘90s domestically, she adds. CIDA’s funding of women’s programs saw seismic changes, she points out, including Paraguay criminalizing domestic violence. Canada once led the world, McInturff says. The expertise is still there: “Some of those people are still in government.”
  2. Implement policies that reflect the findings of the last budget. The fact the government used gender-based analysis in its last budget is “fantastic,” McInturff says: “But the analysis is just what’s happening, not what we need to do.” Women work in different occupational sectors than men and policies need to reflect that, she says. For one, women don’t benefit as much from the infrastructure spending that tends to be a budget centrepiece. “I’m in favour of infrastructure spending,” she says. “But we need parallel strategies that invest in occupations where women earn a living wage—health care and social services. Many occupations dominated by women, including retail and hospitality, tend to involve very low wages, she says, so attention should be placed there. The fact the government is investing money in home care to to ease pressure on women is great, McInturff says. “But I’d love to see this government say, ‘We want to see it come with a living wage for those health care workers.’ ”
  3. Lower the threshold of hours worked to qualify for Employment Insurance. This could improve women’s lives overnight, McInturff says. Women are far more likely than men to work part-time, which makes them less likely to qualify for EI, she notes, adding that because of the wage gap, the EI benefits they are qualified for tend to be lower. The government is investing a lot of money in innovation and starting up small- and medium-sized enterprises, she notes, which entails making real efforts to try to ensure those enterprises are run by women. But there’s another hard fact: women with small start-ups may not take a salary for themselves in the first year; if they’re out of a job, they have a hard time qualifying. In that moment of need, they need more support, McInturff says: “Otherwise you get this cycle where if you don’t qualify for EI, or the EI benefit is small, women take the first job they can get. And that job might not be full-time or in a unionized workplace.”
  4. Implement national paternity leave. Quebec offers five weeks of just-for-men paternity leave, McInturff notes. The result: 76 per cent of men in Quebec take leave, compared to 26 per cent in the rest of Canada. It’s positive for fathers, children and families, she says, with benefits for mothers that include a more equal sharing of unpaid work caring for children.
  5. Establish a national action plan to end violence against women. Violence against women—by the government’s own analysis—has an economic impact of $12.2 billion a year, McInturff points out. It shows no sign of abating: Incidence of every other type of violent crime has decreased in the past two decades, but rates of sexual assault against women remain unchanged. In July, the government announced a “gender-based violence strategy.” Details are scant, McInturff notes: only one page on Status of Women Canada’s website. “We need a national action plan to end violence,” she says, “not just to address it or discuss it or analyze it, but to actually end it.”

RELATED: Why parental leave rules are shutting out dads

Finally, why women in Windsor have reason to be hopeful:

One rationale for The Best and Worst Places to be a Woman in Canada report, McInturff says, is to provide a platform for organizations in these cities to talk to their communities, and raise issues with municipal governments. “We have this huge pool of insight and passion in organizations that are underfunded and understaffed, she says. “I don’t want people to think no one is working on this; communities are full of organizations trying to make their cities better.” In the report, she cites the documentary Her Windsor, filled with inspiring stories of women affecting social change in the border city. As a smaller, close-knit community, they were able to make changes that might have been harder if in Toronto or Vancouver or Montreal, McInturff says: “What women are saying in Windsor is that with a little more support and more resources, we have the opportunity to be a great place for women to live.” As this roadmap of a study makes clear, it’s a mantra that applies to the country as well.


A crash course in how the feds could improve gender equality

  1. Can the Feds or anyone change reality, the truth?

    Can they change the fact that being so distressed with the gender assigned at birth, that you insist on sterilization and cosmetic surgery, is a mental disorder identified as gender dysphoria?

    Can they change the fact that procreation is the combination and continuation of living cells resulting in a child sharing the entire genetic ancestry of both biological parents and that only heterosexuals are capable of accomplishing this relationship?

    If the facts, reality, the truth, demonstrate inequality, how, besides lying, can anyone propose to change it?

  2. Let’s dissect this vacuous piece, focusing on the centerpiece.
    1 (Increasing transfers to “women’s organizations.”)- How will confiscating more funds from Canadian families, and distributing it to left-leaning organizations that continually advocate for more government confiscation and intrusion in the lives of middle class, working people help women? Please be specific.
    2 (Implement policies that reflect the findings of the last budget.)- Again, a paragraph of nonsense. For one thing, a budget is a declarative document, not an inquisitive one. A budget has no “findings.” More specifically, how will neglecting roads, bridges, sewers, and electrical grid infrastructure assist women? What specific policies might a federal government enact that would help women in the retail sector earn more? How would adding federally induced costs to retail and service sectors help families? Again, please be specific.
    3 (Lower the threshold of hours worked to qualify for EI) It just about took an act of God to raise the number of hours required so that we could at least trim the number of people for whom EI subsistence is a lifestyle choice. Does the writer presume we should now have gender-based rules for EI? Would that not contravene our constitutional right of equality before the crown? Would this apply only to women, or would someone who identifies as a woman also be eligible for relaxed EI rules? Would self-identifying as a man automatically render someone born female to the male EI rules?
    4 (Institute national paternity leave)- Again, adding tens of thousands of dollars in potential costs to every small business in the country helps no one. Nor does adding hundreds of millions of dollars in annual costs to the Canadian economy. This is a non-starter that directly harms young families by making economic transitions for young, married males that much more difficult.
    5 (Establish a national action plan to end violence against women)- High minded rhetoric, but utter hogwash. The very worst of that particular problem is within our native community, yet they won’t even acknowledge it. We spent billions on the supposed problem of “gun violence”, but in typical Ottawa stupidity, all we really did was try to get duck hunters to give up their shotguns while ignoring the Jamaican gang-bangers in Jane-Finch. Pray tell, what might a national action plan to end violence against women look like?
    The writer of this piece lives in la-la land. Please, Anne, tell us how giving more money to Status of Women, which in turn used to donate outsized sums to the Liberal Party of Canada, might help women? The Libranos are the party of economic regression. That helps families, how? How does piling up billions and billions in debt help families of the future, when their taxes go to pay the for the services of the past? (I pay several hundred dollars PER MONTH just to service the debt that is the first Trudeau’s legacy.) How does more of this help my adult daughter?
    You are supposedly a well-educated person, Kingston, yet you continually write stuff that is patently absurdist and wholesale stupid. How does this happen?
    The gender gap does not exist. Find me a female realtor earning less than her male counterparts, and I’ll show you one who closes fewer deals. Show me a female lawyer making less than her male co-workers, and I’ll show you one clearing fewer billable hours. Show me a female engineer making less, and I’ll show you one that has taken on fewer projects.
    I once worked with a female machinist who made almost $5000 per year less than her male counterparts, because she missed, on average 24 days per year of work. The customers still needed their parts, regardless of her situation. Should the company have paid her to be home 24 days per year, at a cost of $20,000, when we had no way of passing on that cost to the customer?
    You’ve often written pieces that appear to show some admiration for Hillary Clinton. How do you square that against the very public information that male staffers on the Clinton campaign earned more than similarly educated female staff? Ditto for the Obama White House.
    What say you?

    • Right On Bill..

    • Good post but probably could have done without the reference to Jamaican gang bangers. Don’t forget that when they first came out with the gun registry a big part of it was in response to white boys shooting each other almost daily in Quebec.

    • I pay several hundred dollars PER MONTH just to service the debt that is the first Trudeau’s legacy.

      Really? Then how many thousands are you paying for the Mulroney and Harper debts? Let’s see the breakdown, Bill!

      As for the rest… an interesting mix of good points and utter nonsense – a step up from most of your comments, which are usually 100% nonsense.

      • Easy. Total government debts, not including pension shortfalls, in Canada totals $1.3 trillion. About half of that is federal, and half of that again was solely the product of Pierre Trudeau’s recklessness. His policies were solely responsible for an expansion of government that utterly outran the ability of the economy to support it.
        In short, almost all of our federal debt is directly the result of the Trudeau Liberals. But, for the sake of brevity, I’ll cap it at an inarguable $350 billion.
        Divided equally among us, that’s $3000+ per household, per year in debt servicing costs. But, only about 60% of households (or less) actually pay net federal taxes. Between the households in so-called “have not” provinces, who vary from being net recipients of federal taxation to being partially subsidized by taxpayers elsewhere, to the federal civil service, etc., only a modest majority of us actually are paying in. That puts my household $3000 closer to $5000 per year. I’m pretty sure $400+ qualifies as several hundred.
        Both Mulroney and Harper made crucial governing errors in the early days of their governments. Their failures to take a figurative chainsaw to federal expenditures in the first weeks of their governments is a decision that will cost us dearly not far down the road.

  3. The solution is simple, just don’t hire men and fire those who are now working, women 100% everywhere and no men, will solve the feminists problems. Call it the final solution.