Women in Harperland: A Critical Look at Gender Inequality in Canada since 2006

By Strumm, Brianna | Canadian Review of Social Policy, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Women in Harperland: A Critical Look at Gender Inequality in Canada since 2006


Strumm, Brianna, Canadian Review of Social Policy


Introduction

Undeniably, progress for women has occurred in Canada since the Report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women (1970). Women's daily lives in 2014 differ vastly from the way they were in the 1970s both economically and socially. More than double the numbers of women participate in the labour force currently as compared to 1976. 62.5% of women age 25 and older work, including many women who are lone parents with small children (Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action [FAFIA], 2010; Statistics Canada, 2009). Human rights legislation and welfare state programs, such as the Employment Equity Act of 1977, and Unemployment Insurance (UI), were instituted to ensure women have equal rights in the labour market as well as access to financial support from the state. In theory, the Canadian welfare state provides the same benefits and protections for women as for men; however, substantial evidence shows that gender equality has not been achieved. Women's social protection and economic status is increasingly eroding since Stephen Harper's Conservative government was elected in 2006.

This short commentary will argue that women are not given equal opportunity to participate economically and socially in Canada due to these disadvantages. Disadvantages that have been exacerbated by the federal leadership of Stephen Harper over the last eight years. In January 2006, a minority Harper Conservative government was elected, and the ideological positions of this leader (and his party) regarding social spending and family policy have dramatically changed Canada's course from that of the post-neoliberal Liberals exiting Parliament Hill. Harper's ideological stance on 'the family', for example, effectively encourages women to stay home, dis-incentivizes women engaging in paid employment, and positions them as dependents on men. The Universal Child Care (UCCB) monthly allowance, which 'replaced' a national childcare strategy negotiated successfully by the Liberals with the provinces and territories, is an example of policies born out of this ideology. After taxes, this allowance significantly favours one-earner couples over single parents, and two-earner couples, due to its 'universality' (Bezanson, 2010; Battle et al., 2006). Instead, women need adequate services and resources to care for their children that is "responsive to the needs of a variety of family forms, not a small, taxable and unevenly targeted payment" (Bezanson, 2010, p. 109). Furthermore, they don't need policies that promote tension between participating in the labour market and the duties of family life.

While there are many factors to gender inequality in Canadian social policy, my commentary will focus on three practical and current issues. First, the wage and income gap between men and women will be addressed. The consequences of income splitting and how precarious job creation in the workplace limit women's ability to economically progress comparably to men will be discussed. Second, a lack of investment in, and consideration of, social infrastructure, such as affordable childcare, deprives women the opportunity to both gain paid employment, and use these services as benefactors. The constraints on women's time due to reproductive, and unpaid caring responsibilities are not adequately taken into consideration in current social policy trends. Finally, the personal, social and economic devastation caused by violence against women is not adequately addressed within Canada's federal legislation, and is a violation of basic human rights. Changes to Status of Women Canada (SWC) place a greater emphasis on the responsibilities of the individual with regards to violence, economic independence, and the empowerment of women. Substantive cuts to the SWC operating budget (40%), the closure of regional SWC offices (16 to 4), and the elimination of all funding for research on women's issues for women's organizations involved in advocating or lobbying governments, were a part of the 'sweeping' reforms which occurred in December 2006, shortly after Harper was elected. …

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