British Columbia Liberal’s Shame:
The Impoverishment of Women in BC by the Gordon Campbell Liberal Government
By Kira Koshelanyk
On March 8th, 2008 the streets of Vancouver were host to hundreds of women, men and children chanting “No to Poverty, No to War!” and marching in step for International Women’s Day (IWD), the international day of struggle and recognition of women’s rights. Just one day earlier, the BC Federation of Labour released a shocking new report titled “Still Waiting for Justice: Provincial Policies and Gender Inequality in BC 2001-2008”. The 51-page study exposes how the actions of the BC Liberal government have turned women in British Columbia (BC) into one of the poorest demographics in all of Canada, highlighting that the struggle for women’s rights at home is far from won and has urgent priorities.
Women’s Poverty by the Numbers
British Columbia and the Vancouver area in particular have the highest rates of poverty in all of Canada. Within this region women, and especially single mothers, Indigenous women and women of colour, are the most likely to live in poverty.
Employment rates give an inaccurate impression of economic security as in BC full-time, year-round work is no guarantee of being able to pay the bills. The “Still Waiting for Justice” report states that: “In 2005, BC had the highest proportion of “working poor” families (those with children living below the poverty line in which at least one adult held a full-time full-year job): [the rate is] 14.5 percent in BC compared to a national average of 8.7 percent.”
Many women in BC are at very real risk of joining the estimated 11,750 people already homeless in this province. Housing costs in BC have skyrocketed and BC rental vacancies are barely above 1%, making accommodation for low-income earners, the majority of whom are women, unaffordable and unobtainable.
The BC Liberals Don’t Care About Child Care
Beginning April 1, 2007 a total of $35 – $40 million was cut from BC’s Childcare programs and all major child care capital funding was stopped, meaning no new child care spaces will be built even though BC is already in a deficit. Eighty percent of single parent families in BC are headed by women leaving them wondering where they will find affordable child care. Working while rearing the next generation of this province’s workers without access to quality, reliable child care has been another one of the BC Liberal’s blow to women.
BC Liberals Attack Women Workers & Pay Equity
Since 2001, the BC Liberals have systematically dismantled agencies and legislation that regulate and report on the situation of women.
One of the first tasks of the BC Liberals in government was to dismantle BC’s pay equity legislation. Next, they removed the pay equity provision from the Human Rights Code of BC and dissolved the entire BC Human Rights Commission, the only provincial body with a mandate to eliminate discrimination. These completely backward measures left BC with no legislation or policy on pay equity whatsoever. Statistics Canada reports that women working full-time year-round still earn only an average of 70.5 percent of the wages of male counterparts.
The Liberals also scrapped the Ministry of Women’s Equality, with its pro-active mandate to ‘advance equality’ for women. Instead women’s issues have been lumped together with services for seniors, “First Nations Relations” and many others in the catch-all “Ministry of Community Services”. And no one can forget the April 2004 BC government 100% funding cut to all 37 women’s centres in BC.
Changes to the Employment Standards Act in order to increase “flexibility” in the labour market in BC simultaneously weakened safeguards for workers, particularly part-time, temporary and low-wage staff who are primarily women and immigrants. Across Canada, women make up two-thirds of minimum wage workers. Without legislation requiring equal pay for equal work for women and without policies and agencies women can appeal to to enforce their rights, women as workers in BC have become increasingly vulnerable to working low-wage, dead-end jobs.
We Must Defend Women’s Rights Against the BC Liberals’ Attacks!
Globally, the capitalist economic system is in the throes of crisis and BC is not exempt from this picture. The BC Liberals cuts are in response to this downturn. Since 2001, they’ve ensured women make up the most vulnerable pool of labour for sale to BC’s businesses and have enforced women’s exploitation in the unpaid work of producing and caring for the next generation of workers.
In order to avert a state of complete crisis for women in BC, women, working, poor and oppressed people, activists and women’s advocates must join together to reverse the backward moves of the BC Liberal government. As women have shown internationally for nearly 100 years of International Women’s Days, each gain in the struggle for women’s rights must be dearly protected and defended in order that we will be in a better position to fight for the next stage. We must call for an end to the BC Liberal government’s cuts and a reversal of the all of the BC Liberals’ regressive measures that have legislated women into poverty in the last 7 years.
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