Pay Equity

Who will fight to uphold women’s right to pay equity?  Certainly not Stephen Harper and his (neo)Cons.  Not Michael Ignatieff either.  We can count on the NDP but on their own, they can only hope to get this bill separated from the budget bill so that there’s some chance of it being voted down now that Iggy has decided to sell women out and support the government on the budget.  Women fought hard for this most basic of rights, equal pay for work of equal value.  Why on earth should they be put in the position of having to bargain for pay equity with their government employer over and over again?  How long do you think it will be before the private sector insists on the same “privilege”?

This from Linda Diebel’s blog, the Political Decoder:

The unravelling of rights is exactly what’s happening with the Conservatives’ new “Equitable Compensation Act.” There’s an Orwellian title for you – like the Patriot Act. The change the Conservatives slipped into the recent budget – after failing last year – has nothing to do with equitable pay. In fact, it’s the opposite. It removes any chance women in the federal civil service have of fighting for pay equity by denying them the right to complain to the Human Rights Commission, or to go to court, when they believe there is discrimination. Instead, pay equity issues are to be solved as part of the regular bargaining process but – get this! – if anyone agitates on the basis of pay equity, they face a $50,000 fine. So the Conservative regime is forbidding a woman from fighting for herself and, simultaneously, penalizing her union from fighting for her.

Once this legislation is passed, a woman working in the federal public service will have fewer rights than women working elsewhere in Canada.

“We fought this battle so hard 30 years ago,”  [NDP MP Judy] Wasylycia-Leis said in an interview … “and I never thought we’d lose what we won. It’s shocking. They are taking it away in one fell swoop with the stroke of a pen . . . It hurts.”

There is still a way to stop it, she says. The act is part of the budget legislation and Wasylycia-Leis and her NDP colleagues are trying to divide it off into a separate bill that would then face its own vote in the House that, hopefully, wouldn’t be a non-confidence motion. If the Liberals and (one would think) the Bloc unites with the NDP, it could be defeated. The act should be in committee the week of February 23 and the House not long after.

Wasylycia-Leis says she’s embarrassed men in other parties haven’t fought harder for such a basic right for women. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, she argues, could have refused to support a budget that contains this new pay equity regime, instead of demanding only  progress reports.   “Maybe,” she said, “they’re not aware what this does to women.”  [emphasis added]

Oh they’re aware Judy.  But I know you know that.  I would prefer it a great deal if this bill was called what it is – the Inequitable Compensation Act.  At least that would be honest.  But then, we’re talking about politicians.

I’m supposed to be too old to be shocked.  I’m shocked.

NAWL Report Card

At the website of the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL), you can find a “report card” on the Conservative Throne Speech.  The final grade is a “D”.  Here’s a bit, responding to a report from the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee:

In its recently released Concluding Observations  relating to Canada, the UN CEDAW Committee criticizes the Canadian government’s lack of compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, including the Harper government cuts to funding for equality rights research and advocacy and its inaction on issues of violence, poverty, access to justice, and racism faced by Aboriginal and other women.  The Throne Speech and the Harper government’s agenda for the 40th Parliament do nothing to respond to these serious concerns, or to promote real equality for women and girls in Canada. In times of fiscal restraint, those who are already disadvantaged are at greatest risk of having their human rights diminished even further. The implementation of ‘cost control measures’ in Ottawa could leave girls and women in jeopardy of a further erosion of their rights. Now, more than ever, women and girls in Canada need the Harper government to meet its commitments under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Where Be Woman?

A new book from Janine Brody and Isabella Bakker on gender equity, budgets and public policy – Where Are the Women?

Contemporary Canadian fiscal and social policy reforms have been accompanied by the progressive disappearance of the gendered subject, both in discourse and practice. Indeed, the minority Conservative government of Stephen Harper has gone so far as to declare that the goal of gender equity has been achieved in Canada. However, as Brodie and Bakker argue in Where Are the Women? Gender Equity, Budgets and Canadian Public Policy, not only has the goal of gender equality not been met but the relentless attack on federal social programs over the past decade has actually undermined gender equity, as well as the well-being of Canadian women, especially the most vulnerable.

In fact the degendering of public policy and the erasure of the goal of gender equity from the policy process has been a long-standing project, reaching all the way back to the mid-1990s. Brodie and Bakker describe how over this period there has developed a fundamental disconnect—a policy incoherence—within Canadian government. On the one hand, Canadian governments have been publicly committing themselves to working towards gender equality goals. On the other, these same governments have been subverting their own progress by giving priority to supposedly “gender-neutral” market-based policies at the expense of all other social priorities.

In Where Are the Women? Brodie and Bakker focus on five dimensions of the process of degendering of contemporary Canadian public policy. Chapter 2 examines major federal social policy initiatives since the mid-1990s, and their implications for different groups of women. Chapter 3 focuses on the fragmentation and erosion of Canada’s social assistance regime and considers the implications of these processes for gender equality. Chapter 4 documents the degendering of policy capacity, both within and outside of government, and how such changes stand in contrast to the international and national commitments made by a series of Canadian governments. Chapter 5 considers how budget planning in all its aspects has become an increasingly important component of social policy capacity, and how the veil of budget secrecy has been adopted as a mechanism to obscure the fiscalization of social policy. Finally, a series of recommendations related to the governance of fiscal and social policy are provided in Chapter 6, while Chapter 7 offers as a postscript a description of the significant changes to the position of gender equity in Canada following the election of the Harper Conservative government.

Women, Politicians & Doctors

Why don’t more Canadian women run for public office?  Try division of labour:

So what’s the problem? Getting us to run, of course.

Isabel Metcalfe, who was in charge of recruiting women to hit Stéphane Dion’s target of one-third female Liberal candidates, told me that women need to be convinced. “There’s always some guy who thinks he’d be terrific,” but women are “reticent.”

Family is usually what’s holding them back. Provincial or federal politics means weeks at a time away from home, and that conflicts with the larger share of domestic baggage women still carry.

It happens in the best of families. In this week’s New York Times Magazine, Kerry Kennedy — daughter of Bobby and Ethel — was asked if she has ever considered running for office. She said she has thought about it, but her children are 13 and 11, “and as a single mother, I think that would be just too tough on our family. Their father is a politician.” (Kennedy was very publicly divorced from New York’s attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, in 2003.)

If a daughter of the U.S.’s most storied political family thinks running for office is too hard on the home life, there seems little hope for the rest of us.

So how do we get women to chuck the hubby and kids for life in a fishbowl? If we wait until men are willing to take up the domestic slack before women take a bigger role in public life, well, we’ll be waiting a long time.

But perhaps Baby Boomers, women of Penny Collenette’s vintage, will start answering the call in greater numbers. In their 50s and 60s, they’ve had their careers, raised their families, done fine charity work, had enriching life experience, and sure understand what’s facing everyday families.

Come to think of it, just what we want in our politicians.

Let’s face it, the job isn’t made for men or women who have families.  The numbers of women who have entered previously male professions and taken on men’s jobs in the last several decades have not changed to nature of the work itself very often.  On that theme, it’s interesting to look at what’s happened to the nature of family practices in medicine over the same time period.

Over the last several decades, Ontario has experienced a severe reduction in the number of family practice doctors available to take on new patients such that the lack of doctors has caused a crisis in rural and even some suburban areas.  To a certain extent, this crisis can be attributed to short-sightedness about the number of doctors who would be needed – the government of Canada understood the rapid increase in cost of running the health care system as being physician driven and, in their wisdom, reduced the number of available places in Canadian medical schools by 10%.  Brilliant.  It’s a little more complicated than that, but suffice to say, there would now seem to be about 5 million people in Canada with no primary care physician – count me as one of them.

There are other factors that have contributed to the problem but the increasing numbers of female medical school graduates are part of it.  It’s now well-documented that women practice differently than men.  For one thing, they work shorter hours:

Female doctors constitute half the graduating classes, further reducing capacity, as female doctors, on average, work shorter hours during the child-rearing years.

However, it’s not quite as simple as it looks.  For one thing, it’s in the years before their children are in school full-time that female family doctors work fewer hours than their male counterparts.  For another, though the fall in numbers of hours worked per week is greater in the case of women, male family doctors are also working fewer hours than their predecessors:

The hours worked per week decreased slightly for all physicians, both male and female. Preferred hours of work in 1999 were 37.2 for males and 31.0 for females. Preferences for hours worked and satisfaction with the balance between work and home life were important in predicting the hours worked. Those who were satisfied with the balance in both 1993 and 1999 worked 35 hours a week in 1993 and 33 hours in 1999. Those who felt the balance was not good at either time were working 48 hours in 1993 and 47 hours in 1999. Physicians without children, and women having a physician as spouse, or having a child under six, worked fewer hours. Women with all children at school worked longer hours. [download pdf]

While men have become increasingly less likely to enter the medical profession than women – some attribute this to the remunerative and status appeal of computer science and business careers – those who do become family doctors don’t find the 80-hour work weeks of older doctors any more appealing than women.  Watching women transform practice to allow themselves time with family just may have rubbed off on their male counterparts, making the entry of women into the profession a factor that has actually changed the way the work is done.  However, when male physicians work fewer hours, the explanation is a little different than it is for women:

… we could see it as taking our role as healers seriously, making time for our own inner lives, trying to achieve a balance between an active and a more contemplative life.

Hmm.  women are taking time off to raise their children and men are taking time off to find themselves.  In that way, it doesn’t seem likely that the change in workplace dynamics has changed much with respect to the division of labour within the home.

In addition, there’s evidence that the focus of family practitioners has changed and that the change appears to have originated with women, who provide fewer services but spend more time with their patients. [download pdf]  That’s not necessarily a bad result.  As one analyst notes

It’s not all bad if more time with a patient means fewer visits in the end …

A physician urges us to consider another factor:

Considering the complexity of so many of the health problems in family practice – chronic pain, occupational traumas and stresses, the so-called somatoform disorders, family dysfunction, anxiety/depression and so on – this [increased focus on counseling] is encouraging, especially if it signifies more time with patients and improving counseling skills. Counseling can be shared with nurses, social workers, and other more specialized counselors. But in the assessment and therapy of complex disorders, counseling skills are clinical skills. It is also significant that the great majority in both surveys offered psychotherapy. We do not know what form this takes, but it does suggest that the respondents regard it as important to family practice. There will be some that do not welcome this trend. I urge them to think again. Of all fields of medicine, family practice can show medicine how to transcend the artificial division between mind and body, which runs through medicine like a fault line. It is the kind of relationship we have with patients that distinguishes us more than anything else, and “psychotherapy” may be another word for the emotional intelligence we need in our relationships and our clinical judgements.

For reasons of decreased supply, women have found it possible to maintain practices wherein they are able to control both their hours and the way they work and thus, arguably, to change the way medicine is practiced and their working conditions.  In order to attract increasing numbers of women, other areas of work, like politics for instance, will likely have to show themselves capable of allowing this kind of change and flexibility.  Short of the revolution, such a change will require a change in economic conditions.  But likely not the kinds of changes we’re seeing today.

Equal Voice is tracking the numbers of women nominated, by party, and the numbers of women in “winnable” ridings, as compared to 2006.  Keep an eye out.

LEAF & Bill C-484

Position paper of the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) on Bill C-484:

LEAF opposes Bill C-484 because it is little more than an attempt to grant
legal person status to unborn fetuses, while failing to provide any substantial measures to address violence against women, including pregnant women. The implications of this Bill are significant for women’s equality and could affect women’s access to abortion.

LEAF is concerned about the pervasiveness of male violence against women and children in Canadian society. Pregnant women can be particularly vulnerable to acts of physical and emotional violence. Bill C-484 does not achieve the aim of taking seriously violence against women and does not add any meaningful legal remedies to those already present in the criminal law to address violence against pregnant women. When a pregnant woman is abused or killed, loss of the fetus is harm to the pregnant woman herself. This harm can be considered an aggravating feature in sentencing.

Equality advocates have identified systemic causes of violence against women and proffered a wide range of meaningful solutions to those causes, such as adequate financial security for women and children trying to leave abusive situations, more stable funding and education opportunities for women with children, and better training for police, lawyers and judges and better funding for transition houses and women’s groups serving the needs of abused women. If this or any other Canadian government was serious about addressing violence against women, including pregnant women, it would look to the wealth of recommendations made over the years by a range of community-based organizations with expertise in assisting women and children victims of violence.

NDP Status of Women Critic Irene Mathyssen (London-Fanshawe) is seeking to move Bill C-484 from the dysfunctional Justice Committee to the Status of Women Committee.   here