Government action is needed to achieve women's equality

October 1, 2000

On October 15, women, children and men will take to the streets in more than 140 countries in the World March of Women. Marchers will demand an end to poverty and violence against women.

On the eve of the march, Premier Ujjal Dosanjh and Joan Smallwood, Minister of Women's Equality, are co-hosting a conference in Vancouver on women's economic equality. As an attempt to raise the profile of women's issues in BC, this event is necessary and timely. There is, however, an urgent need to move from talk to action.

While women in BC have made significant social and economic gains over the past several decades, the gap between women's and men's wages remains entrenched, as does women's additional burden of unpaid family and household responsibilities. In BC, women who work in full-time jobs still make only 73 cents for every dollar earned by men. There are a number of steps the provincial government can and should take to improve the lives of women and their families. Here's a few to get us started on the road to women's equality.

Pay equity. We need comprehensive and proactive pay equity legislation requiring all employers--in both the public and private sectors--to pay women and men equally for work of equal value. Six Canadian provinces have already implemented pay equity legislation, and there is no reason not to do the same in British Columbia.

Employment equity. Women have been actively discouraged from entering non-traditional occupations. Women also face significant barriers to career advancement in all fields of employment. Ending discrimination requires mandatory employment equity measures in the direct public service, as well as the broader public sector, including private companies that benefit from government subsidies and contracts. The Vancouver Island Highway Project, which used local labour and provided training and employment opportunities for women and First Nations, should be used as a model for future initiatives.

Unionization. Women are far more likely than men to be engaged in part-time, temporary, part-year, and contract jobs--jobs that do not provide them with the financial security and benefits they need to support their families and provide for their future. One way to improve the economic security of these women would be to raise the rate of unionization in these jobs. In British Columbia, women in unions earn an average of $20.82 per hour for full-time work and $18.54 per hour for part-time work. This compares to $16.59 for full-time and $11.00 for part-time women workers who are not in a union. Amending the provincial labour code to allow for sectoral certification and bargaining would promote meaningful access to collective bargaining for all working women.

A vibrant public sector. The government can also improve women's paid employment by maintaining a strong and vibrant public sector in this province. The public sector has historically been a source of relatively stable, well-paying jobs for women. Government cutbacks and privatization reduce the pool of good public sector jobs in health care, education, and other social services that fuelled much of the overall improvement in women's average earnings over the past several decades.

Childcare. Women must have access to high quality affordable child care in order to participate on an equal footing with men in the paid workforce. The BC government's new publicly-funded child care program for school-aged children is an important first step, but the program should be expanded to include care for younger children, and to provide child care during evenings and weekends when many low-wage and part-time employees must work.

Eldercare. Increasingly, women are faced with the added burden of caring for elderly family members. The government must expand the public services, including long term care facilities, home nursing and home support, that enable the elderly to live independently in their own homes and communities, and ease women's caregiving responsibilities.

On October 15, women will make loud and clear their demands for economic and social justice. Let's hope our provincial government responds with a concrete programme for achieving women's equality.