The term "human rights" carries connotations of a wide range of possibilities; some may think immediately of the right to have important needs met, a right to shelter or to food. International law often guarantees those rights within the means of a government. As Canadians, we often think of a right to health care or a right to vote in elections. These rights are guaranteed in legislation, or even in constitutional law. Human rights also include a right to equality, a right to equal dignity and participation in important areas of life, including work (Hess, 1993).
Human rights protection means both ensuring that there are no violations of these rights (prohibiting discrimination, for example) and a positive obligation to increase the dignity and ability to participate in society of all members of a society (Armitage, 1996; Hess, 1993). An important equality protection, Employment Equity, in Canada is set out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which contains a guarantee of equality in the labour market (Employment Equity Act, 1996). The Charter guarantee of equality is powerful, and establishes a floor of human rights that the government is required to meet.
It is unacceptable for any government in Canada to act in a way that discriminates against a person or group. In support of my opening statements, the aim of this paper is to prove that relative poverty among women is evidence of Canada's residual approach to Employment Equity. The following is presented to clarify my aim relative poverty is defined as, "some individuals or groups in a society lack resources afforded and taken as fixed by others" (Klochkovsky, 1975). Residual approach, is defined by Andrew Armitage, as "social welfare institutions coming into play only when the normal structures of supply…
break down" (1996:28). The 1995 Act states the purpose of employment equity as one, "to achieve equality in the workplace so that no person shall be denied employment opportunities or benefits for reasons unrelated to ability and, in the fulfilment of that goal, to correct the conditions of disadvantage in employment experienced by women…. giving effect to the principle that employment equity means more than treating persons in the same way but also requires special measures and the accommodation of differences" (Employment Equity Act, 1995).
My aim will be argued, from a feminist perspective, by presenting the statistical gendered polarity of poverty in Canada, and the inequity in governmental policies and programmes. Including those related to single mothers, minority women, relevant sectors of the employment economy and structural adjustment. Most specifically the focus of this paper will be on the gendered nature of governmental policy and it's impact on women's poverty and employment equity. As noted, a disproportionate number of the poor in Canada are women.
Recent statistics show that, using Statistics Canada's Low-Income Cut-Offs (LICO) as a measurement of poverty, 57 percent of all persons living in low-income situations in Canada were women (Statistics Canada, 1999). The differences between the sexes are most pronounced in the youngest and oldest groups (National Council of Welfare, 1995). Single mothers and other unattached women (widowed or divorced) are most likely to be poor, with poverty rates for those groups reaching as high as 57. 2 percent for single mothers under 65, and 43. 4 percent for unattached women over 65 years of age (National Council of Welfare, 1995).
The poverty rates for single mothers are much worse when the figures are disaggregated by their ages and the ages of their children. Single mothers with children under seven had poverty rates as high as 82. 5 percent in 1995, and single mothers under age 25 had a poverty rate of 83 percent (National Council of Welfare, 1995:85). Poor single mothers are also living in the deepest poverty, with incomes $8,851 below the poverty line in 1995 National Council of Welfare (1995:52). Between 1970 and 1995, average family incomes in Canada increased by 32 percent. This increase, however, has affected only the richest 30 percent of families.
The other 70 percent of families have experienced a decline in family income National Council of Welfare, 1995:85). Hardest hit are families headed by single mothers. Such families have almost doubled in the past 25 years and approximately 40 percent of the bottoms 10 percent of income earners are single-mother families, as compared to 24 percent in 1970 (Women in Canada, 1995). When we examine the statistics for the 'poorest of the poor', it is not surprising that Aboriginal women are even more likely to be poor than other women. In 1990, 33 percent of Aboriginal women were living below the low-income cut-off (Women in Canada, 1995).
The Treasury Board Secretariat (1999:30) reports "almost 12% of women were also members of another designated group. " As a percentage of all women employed in the federal public service, women in a visible minority group comprised 5%, women with disabilities, 3. 7%, and Aboriginal women, 3. 2%. These figures stand in direct contradiction to the governmental platform and it's regulated Employment Equity Act (1995:sections; 43,44,45). The Consultation Group on Employment Equity for Women (1995) identifies the "double disadvantage" these women face.
For example, Aboriginal women tend, even more than other women, to be compressed into lower levels of occupational groups (Frideres, 1998). The report suggests that special attention be paid to the group of women belonging to the other designated groups (Treasury Board Secretariat, 1999). But it also notes that "given the relatively low numbers of women at the levels studied in the federal work force who are doubly disadvantaged, the methodology did not permit double disadvantage to be included as a separate factor in the focus group study (Treasury Board Secretariat, 1999:45).
" One implication of being doubly disadvantaged is that the attitudinal barriers could result in an even lower probability of these employees being chosen for developmental and/or advancement opportunities (Townson, 2000; Vogel, 2000). Another facet of this issue is a lack of accommodation in the context of cultural heritage (Kymlicka, 1998). Aboriginal women are often expected to assimilate into the workplace with little or no recognition of their cultural heritage (Frideres, 1998).
Should a member of a minority be required to take leave related to the observance of religious holidays and community/family events, while the leave is usually granted, the unspoken messages sent to that employee is that they are being provided with a special privilege (Consultation Group on Employment Equity for Women, 1995; Kymlicka, 1998; Frideres, 1998); whereas managers would never question the practice of an employee taking time off to celebrate the birth of Christ (Treasury Board Secretariat, 1999; Consultation Group on Employment Equity for Women, 1995).
As well as being poorer than men, and more reliant on social assistance and other government transfers, women are more vulnerable to becoming poor (Statistics Canada, 1998). Women's income from all sources is about 58 percent of men's income, and there is an equivalent gap in pension benefits, with women receiving only 58. 8 percent of the Canada Pension Plan/Quebec Pension Plan pension benefits that men receive (Townson, 1996). As of 1994, 40 percent of women, compared to 27 percent of men, held non-standard jobs, that is, they were self-employed, had multiple jobs, or jobs that were temporary or part-time (Townson, 1996).
Many of these jobs were minimum wage jobs and were unlikely to be unionized and unlikely to provide pensions or benefits (Torjman, 1995; Townson, 1996). Also, at the time of marriage breakdown, women become poorer, while men's income increases (Women in Canada, 1995). This means that many women are one non-standard job, or one marriage breakdown, away from needing government income assistance (MacBride-King, 1990). During the 1995 through 2000 period women were hit by restructuring of social programs at both the federal and provincial levels (Day, Young and Won, 1998).
This has exacerbated the pre-existing condition of women's disproportionate poverty and is a bitter irony for women (Townson, 2000). As noted, far from implementing the steps set out in the Platform for Action, measures have been instituted which have worsened the situation of Canadian women (Wilson Report, 1998). Monica Townson in her Report Card states, "Governments in Canada have not developed strategies to deal with women's poverty. In fact, many of the policies they have implemented recently have exacerbated the problem and have undoubtedly contributed to increasing poverty rates for women (2000).
" Reduction of the deficit and, more recently, the debt has been a key focus for the Canadian government since the early 1990s (Torjman, 1995). Economists have argued that this recent expenditure reduction has resulted in, among other things, a shift in the burden of social welfare from the federal government to provincial government (Day, Young and Won, 1998). This restructuring has caused the elimination of programs directly and adversely affecting women, the poorest members of our society (Cohen, 1994).