What does pressing for real progress look like?
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “Press for Progress”. Fuelled by global activism for women’s equality, 2018 is the year to press forward and progress gender parity in all environments.
Press for Progress comes on the heels of the Trudeau government’s gender-focused federal budget which included provisions for pay equity legislation impacting federally-regulated workplaces and dedicated leave for fathers and non-birthing partners to support equitably-shared parenting.
These are definite steps forward that will create a Canada where gender parity is the norm. We can see the impact of such policies already; in Québec, which already has dedicated paternity leave, 80 per cent of men take some form of leave compared to a pitiable 12 per cent in the rest of the country. This may be because Québec’s parental leave system provides up to five weeks of paid leave to new fathers at up to 70 per cent of their income.
In a country where women earn 31 per cent less than men (with a median income of $28,120 to men’s $40,890), proactive pay equity is a cornerstone of long-term, sustainable equity by ensuring women have access to the same levels of income from the very beginning of their work lives.
But even with these positive steps, we are failing to address the core needs of many women in Canada who are living in low-income or living in the gap. There are two areas where this is most clear: access to childcare and the status of senior women.
The federal budget did little to meet demands for action on a national childcare framework to help families cope with the staggering costs of childcare and early childhood education. Again, Québec remains the only province or territory to have a fully-subsidized, accessible childcare program, though British Columbia has announced a new, if not universal yet, plan.
Budget 2018, for example, uses “Safia”, a fictitious single parent making $25,000 a year, as an to illustrate how the combination of the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) and the Canada Workers Benefit (CWB), formerly the Working Income Tax Benefit, will support low-income families. The federal government has often promoted the CCB as a key anti-poverty measure for families in Canada, but it is not a solution to exorbitant childcare fees and a lack of available spaces.
For women like Safia, receiving an additional $600 from the CWB is certainly better than not. But this hardly makes a dent in cities like Toronto, where preschool has a median monthly cost of $1212 or $14,544 annually, and the waitlists for subsidized care are tens of thousands of families long.
A feminist government must make a national childcare framework central for real progress on gender parity. As Jen Gerson wrote in a recent piece for CBC, “The market has failed to provide enough affordable and high quality child-care spaces in this country. As long as that remains so, women will not be able to work to their full potential or capacity.”
Budget 2018 indicated that 900,000 seniors are living in low-income, 70 per cent of whom are women. Senior women are two-times as likely as men to live in poverty. In the long-term, pay equity will allow women to be more financially-stable through their lives, setting them up for a less volatile retirement, but what is happening for today’s seniors?
The release of the income data from the 2016 census illustrated that senior poverty is on the rise in Canada – and this increase mirrored data revealing a staggering 27 per cent increase in senior food bank usage from last year in Toronto. With 75 per cent of people in Canada self-reporting as only having a quarter of the money they thought they’d need for retirement, it’s clear limited measures like auto-enrolment or a slight increase to the Guaranteed Income Supplement, while laudable, are insufficient for the alarming number of senior women living in poverty.
These gaps don’t mean that progress isn’t underway – the newest programs and policies of the federal budget are steps in the right direction. As a member of the global community, Canada has committed to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 – the first of which is the eradication of poverty worldwide – and these goals require bold action, not just limited steps. Listening to what communities are calling for is crucial—and pressing for progress means acting on what they say.
Laura Neidhart is the Development and Communications Coordinator for Canada Without Poverty.