By Yalnizyan, Armine
CCPA Monitor , Vol. 13, No. 3
A FOCUS FOR CANADIAN WOMEN'S AGENDA:
We recently marked the 10th anniversary of the Beijing commitment, an international convention to reduce barriers to women's equality, signed by 189 nations in Beijing. Canada was one of those nations, and in that same year, 1995, the federal government unveiled a Platform for Action to honour those commitments. Tellingly, 1995 also marked the year the federal government unveiled the worst retrenchment of program spending in Canadian fiscal history.
Over the next 10 years, far from moving ahead, the women of Canada have lost ground in their struggle to attain greater social, economic, and political equity. And this has occurred despite a nine-year string of huge federal surpluses that are unprecedented in our fiscal history, and unparalleled around the industrialized world.
The feminization of poverty continues apace, around the world and at home, for waged and unwaged women alike. For women, what governments do, and don't do, make a big difference.
So women have to remind themselves what their agenda is, or should be: It is what we demand of our governments, and it is only as successful as it is powerful, and it is only as powerful as its message is focused and concentrated.
For the past two generations, our agenda and its messageto ourselves as well as the politicians-has been this: Women are economically vulnerable, one man away from poverty. Women need to become more economically independent.
Women responded by getting more educated; joining the paid labour force in ever greater number; working ever longer hours; getting jobs in non-traditional occupations.
Two generations later, we still earn a fraction of what men are paid. We are still largely absent at the tops of organizations, where all the decision-making takes place.
For decades, we organized, agitated for and got pay equity legislation and employment equity legislation. Those laws, however, have been eroded-through commission and omission-or repealed.
We fell short, despite our best efforts, of significantly reshaping social policy in ways meaningful to women's dayto-day realities.
Women face violence in a way that men don't. More women than men are poor, and that's as true in Canada as it is elsewhere. Women are working harder than ever, doing more paid work and more unpaid work.
We have been unable to stop the roll-back of social policy provisions that benefited women.
True, we are better educated than ever before. In fact, today the majority of this generation's university students (58%) are women.
True, we earn more than ever before, because we work in record numbers in the labour force, and for longer hours at paid employment than ever before, and because more women are working more than one (paid) job.
More women are self-employed, running own-account businesses and hiring others.
More women are in the paid workforce, whether they have young children or not. In fact, you could call it a social revolution in the role of women. Thirty years ago, only one in three women with kids were in the labour force; today more than two-thirds of them are.
Fewer women are choosing to marry.
Fewer young women are choosing to have children, or as many children.
More women, of all ages, are living on their own.
We still earn less than men.
We still don't have widespread publicly-supported programs of child care and early child development.
We still can't count on access to shelters when we are subjected to violence or abuse.
We're scrambling more than ever to figure out ways to care for our elderly, our ill, ourselves.
We still occupy fewer positions of power and influence; we still lack effective political voice.
Greater economic independence has not yielded greater economic security.
Security has both economic and social dimensions, and these dimensions affect women's participation and economic selfsufficiency. …