International Women's Day
How ironic that, this year at least, the shortest day of the year is devoted to women's rights.
But whatever. I'll take it.
Two articles by my Star sisters to note.
First up, by Andrea Gordon, is a look at the turnout on the streets of Toronto marking the day.
Chantal Sundaram of the local International Women's Day organizing committee stressed that women's security, health and well-being are particularly vulnerable amid the highest job losses in decades and an unemployment rate of 8 per cent in Ontario.
While headlines tend to focus on news like last week's layoffs at Stelco in Hamilton, and at Chrysler in Windsor, there is "a low-level bleed" among the many women who are in non-unionized jobs, or are temporary or migrant workers, and their families.
Sundaram added that women are also hurt by shortages of child care, cuts to health care and lack of affordable housing that worsen during an economic downturn. And they are further at risk because of reduced services and supports such as shelters that would help them.
A statement yesterday from the Canadian Auto Workers union noted that women account for two-thirds of Canadians earning minimum wage and hold 70 per cent of part-time jobs, making it difficult to qualify for employment insurance.
"We need to demand a change to EI eligibility requirements that will provide women and their families with a safety net during these tough economic times, as well as stringent pay equity legislation that would finally work to close the wage gap," said Julie White, women's director for the union. Women make only 70.5 per cent of the average male salary, she noted.
Second, Olivia Ward examines how women everywhere are getting the worst of the economic downturn.
Seventy per cent of the poorest people on the planet are women and girls, and even in a wealthy country like Canada they are the majority of the poor.
Although the global downturn began in the financial sector, dominated by men, it is now bearing down on women, most often found in low-wage and part-time jobs.
The recession has plunged from wealthy to developing countries, where women lack safety nets to help them survive.
"As the economy slows, the disaster in the financial institutions is affecting the real economy," says Sylvia Borren, co-chair of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, a coalition of groups in 100 countries.
"What happens is the informal sector suffers first – the cleaning women, gardeners and people who do the household jobs. They are mostly women."
As worldwide consumer confidence fades, says the International Labour Organization, traditionally female service jobs in cafes and retail stores are also disappearing. It predicts that 22 million of an estimated 51 million to lose their jobs this year will be women.
Adding to the problem is a global food crisis that has caused a spike in the price of dietary staples like rice, narrowing the line between malnutrition and starvation.
"The increase in hunger and economic stress is accelerating fast, and that affects women in a number of different ways," says Borren.
Because women earn less than men even in good times – a 16 per cent global pay gap, according to the International Trade Union Confederation – they have less to fall back on when times turn bad.
But those at the bottom are also caught in a vicious circle of poverty and abuse. Women who held normal jobs are forced into the "shadow" economy of prostitution, drug smuggling and other criminal activity. Or they are drawn into the nets of vicious international traffickers.
Last but not least, a little something I picked up on Twitter just now via @canadianmom and @reuters_women:
Look around the world, especially in the places where women are treated like property, or worse. Can you see a single country where women are second class citizens where you'd like to live?
Women's rights are human rights.
UPPITY WOMEN DATE: While reading my colleague Haroon Siddiqui's trenchant column on Israeli Apartheid Week -- and seeking to kick his butt for referring to the KINGdom of Canada on International Women's Day -- I saw this contribution by former Conservative-turned-Liberal MP Belinda Stronach:
Women with young daughters know the mixed emotions that can stem from conversations about the rights and relative status of women. So many young people today hold the belief that the battle for equality has been well and truly won.
This is encouraging because it means they themselves are encountering few obvious systemic obstacles or barriers.
But it is also unsettling because it means they may be unaware that too many are still subjected to discrimination and disparity.
Taking stock of the state of Canadian women in 2009 means taking a hard look at the inequalities that remain, and taking action to help eliminate them.
There is much we can do as individuals.
First, we need to understand that the price of our century of achievement is the need for vigilance. The recent decision of the federal government to weaken provisions relating to pay equity for Canada's federal public servants demonstrates how tenuous some of our victories may be. If we are silent on this issue, it will become easier for governments to ignore the voices of women.
Second, we need to encourage policies and build institutions that help to empower the equal treatment of women. Among other things, that means stepping up the pressure on governments to make a priority of implementing quality and affordable child care right across our country. It is distressing that at a time of massive government spending in the name of stimulus, there has been little public pressure on Ottawa to fund a system of child care and early learning, an investment that would create jobs in the short-term but would pay off again down the road in the form of better educated children and more successful women in the workforce.
Third, we need to embrace mentoring. I would encourage successful women from all walks of life to give of their valuable time to organizations that provide Canadian girls and young women with access to the life-changing benefits of mentorship. This empowers them with knowledge, experience and leadership at a time in life when that guidance and support can make all the difference.
Fourth, we need to work to elect more women to Parliament and other levels of public office, not merely to fight for the issues that matter most to us, like equal pay for equal work, a national caregiver agenda and more flexible parental benefits, but to bring a woman's perspective to the issues that matter more broadly to our nation.
We are of course long past the time when a woman entering politics prompted men to gasp at the audacity of it all. But we haven't achieved equality of numbers. In fact, we're not even close.
While women represent 52 per cent of the Canadian population, only 22 per cent of federal Members of Parliament are women; this ranks Canada 46th out of 189 countries in this indicator, behind countries like Rwanda, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Read the whole thing. And Haroon? We are not amused.
Read the whole thing.
And Haroon? We are not amused.