Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2005. “Ten Year’s Later: Structural Changes that have Reshaped Canadian Women’s Lives (1995-2005).”


What are the structural and socio-economic and political changes that have reshaped women’s lives since 1995? This paper provides the contextual background outlining current global, health, social, justice, workplace/employment, poverty, family and governance issues based on secondary data, existing research and literature.

Table of Contents
Abstract 1
Table of Contents

Introduction 2

  1. New Social Architectures that reshape women’s lives 2
  2. Women’s Economic Autonomy 7
  3. Women and the conflict between work and family life 9
  4. Health Issues 10
    1. Violence against women over the last decade 11
  5. Appendix 1 12
    1. Acronyms, Agencies, Institutions, Policies by Name 12
    2. Significant Events, Publications, Policies and Programs by date 19
  6. Selected Bibliography 24

In preparation for Beijing +10 Canada began a period of evaluation of its past accomplishments and future efforts towards greater gender equality in Canada. The Federal Plan for Gender Equality was produced a decade ago as an interdepartmental initiative spearheaded by Status of Women Canada. The FPGE was intended as a framework and commitment to address women’s poverty, economic security and health concerns. Ironically in the same year the federal budget imposed unprecedented broad and deep social service and program cuts to eliminate an alarming national deficit which eclipsed commitments to PFA [1], have seen their economic autonomy improve. Canadian women outside those categories, particularly lone parents and First Nations, Métis and Inuit women[2], face new social risks and in some cases are more vulnerable today than they were a decade ago.

Gender equality enshrined in key institutional mechanisms for women’s equity issues, from the Royal Commission on the Status of Women (1970), the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the establishment of the Status of Women Canada (1976) and the Federal Plan for Gender Equality (1995) only touched the tip of the iceberg.

New Social Architectures that reshape women’s lives

During the last decade there has been growing recognition that strong sustainable social programs can contribute to economic efficiency and progress [3] and social justice are no longer perceived as mutually exclusive[4]. Social policies provide social infrastructures that attract skilled workers in a knowledge-based economy. Municipalities that offer health, child care, family support and educational opportunities are more competitive in this new economy. The high cost of persistent inequities is more widely acknowledged [5] and deficit elimination.

Critics claim that the trend towards smaller government places women at a greater disadvantage then men. But there has been no gender based analysis or gender budget to measure the consequences to women of the reforms in governance. Yalnizyan (2004) noted that no federal Minister of Finance had even begun the process of undertaking a gender analysis of its fiscal policies. Without an analysis of macro-economic policies there can be no budgeting of resources for programs that can make change possible. There is a need to incorporate gendered budget analyses to plan and assess the gendered impact of decisions [6] recognized that the goals of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 to mainstream gender in all aspects of economic and social development, continued to evade its member nations a decade later. OECD actively promotes gender budgets,[7] which take gender mainstreaming one step further by identifying the real costs and benefits of budget items in public policy. Gender budgeting “insures that the mandated gender equality perspectives guiding policy are effectively incorporated in all policies and at all levels and at all stages” [8] and territorial governments were inaugurated under the Social Union Framework Agreement. These new modes of governance work from a concept of a shared vision of social policy, with joint planning and efforts. However, a lack of participation of local knowledge communities presents a serious hindrance to policy learning [9].

Increased participation in civil society contributed to debates on gender equality issues in a variety of public forums. One of the most important ways in which Aboriginal women’s rights[10] have been safeguarded in recent decades is through the untiring efforts of organizations like the Native Women’s Association of Canada, Métis National Council of Women (MNCW) and Pauktuutit Inuit Women’s Association [11] and local communities are shut out of negotiations. In 1998 the state of housing was declared a National Disaster by mayors of some of Canada’s largest city-regions.

Years of cascading downloading, from federal to provincial to municipal treasuries, had compromised social supports. The lack of affordable housing became a crushing burden on low-income families and new immigrants (both international and inter-provincial). Getting and maintaining adequate shelter was becoming an increasingly precarious proposition for a rapidly growing number of households. (Yalnizyan 2004)

In Canada the insistence on deep and wide cuts to social services which began in a period of deficit (1995-7) raised barriers to women who are most needy of support. Canada’s economic growth over the last eight years has been faster than any other G7 nation [12] There was a dramatic growth over the past several decades of women entering the paid work force and women now have a high ratio of labour force participation (57% in 2003). There are now more women than men in undergraduate programs. There is an increase of women in middle management positions, business and finance, doctors and dentists (52% in 2003), social sciences and religion. Most growth took place in the 1970s and 1980s but the numbers began rising again recently.

However on closer examination, employment and income levels across the country vary based on level of education, region, race and age. Urban women who are not minorities, aged between 25-54 years and have a university degree in Ontario and the Western provinces are the most likely to be employed (Lindsay, Almey, and Statistics Canada 2003). Thirty-four per cent[13] of full-time Canadian women who work are in jobs with low wages [14] positions. Few women work in transportation, trades or construction work areas where high wages are not dependent on education (Lindsay, Almey, and Statistics Canada 2003). Even with a university education women still earn only 77% of their male counterpart’s income in gender neutral jobs.

Although young women have made impressive improvements in terms of formal education[15], women in their twenties earn less than they did in 1980 [16].

The picture for Aboriginal women is even starker. Although visible minorities, particularly young immigrant women have high employment rates and low income, it is more likely that a young immigrant woman newly arrived in Canada will have employment and a higher income than her Aboriginal counterpart. A quarter century ago young Aboriginal women fared slightly better than their grandchildren in 1996 [17]. Young women particularly have higher levels of stress than any age group with a significant number suffering from clinical depression [18] choosing to spend the $300 million federal transfers on higher profile areas such as health [19] than the rest of the general female population. Current evidence shows that diabetes is three times as prevalent in Aboriginal communities as in the general population a disease that affects twice as many Aboriginal women than men. Twice as many Aboriginal women have HIV/AIDS than non-Aboriginal women. Aboriginal women have more children and at an earlier age than the overall Canadian female population. Many Aboriginal people recognize that alcohol abuse is a social problem in their communities and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) are causing concern in some First Nations and Inuit communities [20]. Violence against women continues to be a primary cross-departmental and cross-sector concern. More women use temporary shelters for abused women. Girls accounted for 85% of the victims of sexual offences against children reported to police in 2002 [21] in a Family Violence Initiative coordinated by Health Canada.

Significant Events, Publications, Policies and Programs by date

1946 The United Nations was founded “pledging to reaffirm faith in equal rights of women and men.”

1947 Commission on Status of Women (CWS) was created to promote women’s rights reporting to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

1970s-80s The 1970s and 1980s were recession prone. Market liberal assumptions were almost unchallenged in the recession prone 1970s and 80s. Proponents such as Margaret Thatcher argued that social justice issues needed to be sacrificed for greater economic efficiency. This would eventually lead to greater economic growth. Spending on social justice issues hampered discouraged private investment and undermined the spirit of entrepreneurship.

1981 Canada acceded to the human rights treaty acknowledging the force of international law of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which obligates states to “ repeal or abolish all existing laws, regulations, penal provisions, customs and practices that are discriminatory against women”. Canada also acceded to “take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care in order to ensure , on a basis of equality of men and women, access to health care services, including those related to family planning.“

1970? The Royal Commission on the Status of Women tabled its landmark report containing 167 recommendations in many policy areas, aimed at the federal government. Recommendations included the development and implementation of mechanisms to measure gender equity in public policy.

1970s-1980s The marketplace was perceived as the critical social institution and primary arbiter of human affairs. Economic efficiency and social justice were considered to be mutually exclusive[22].

1994 Canadian Policy Research Network was founded.

1995 The General Assembly of the UN mandated CSW to integrate a review of the 12 critical areas cited in the PFA. Canada is currently serving on the CSW.

1995 The Federal Plan for Gender Equality spearheaded by Status of Women Canada was a statement of commitments and a framework for the future intended as Canada’s contribution toward the goals of the global Platform for Action to be adopted at the Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, in September 1995. Twenty four federal departments and agencies worked together to commit to the following objectives: implement gender-based analysis throughout federal departments and agencies; improve women’s economic autonomy and well-being; improve women’s physical and psychological well-being; reduce violence in society, particularly violence against women and children; promote gender equality in all aspects of canada’s cultural life; incorporate women’s perspectives in governance; promote and support global gender equality; advance gender equality for employees of federal departments and agencies. advance the situation of women, both within its own borders and globally. The Federal Plan was a collaborative initiative whose intention at the time was to assist Government of Canada’s progressing toward gender equality.

1998 “The mayors of Canada’s biggest cities came to Ottawa and declared the state of affordable housing was a National Disaster. Years of cascading downloading, from federal to provincial to municipal treasuries, had compromised social supports. The lack of affordable housing became a crushing burden on low-income families and new immigrants (both international and inter-provincial). Getting and maintaining adequate shelter was becoming an increasingly precarious proposition for a rapidly growing number of households”

[1] Female lone parents make up almost 20% of all families with children [2] ‘Women continue to have higher poverty rates than men, especially lone parents and Aboriginal women” [3] Even the top officials at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), known for its Structural Adjustment Policies that cut deeply into nation’s social services, has now made an about-face and is in favour of stronger links between economic and social policies (Saint-Martin 2004: 11).

[4] Although mass media sound bytes continues to prefer the taxes-versus-service dichotomy.

[5] “Tax cuts introduced since 1998 have cost federal public coffers $152 billion thus far – cuts that help well-off Canadians far more than they do low-income, vulnerable, and at-risk women” (Yalnizyan 2004: 102).

[6] The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is a Paris-based, international organization, whose member nations have accepted international agreements regarding gender equity and are committed to gender equity in public policies and programs. OECD’s influential recommendations set normative standards for member and non-member nations setting the pace in the field of development. OECD recognizes that gender is a major influence on how people are affected by government policies and programs and access to opportunities and resources. OECD is uniquely placed to play a major role in development and refinement of gender budgeting in developed economies. OECD plays a pivotal role in developing and refining gender budgeting in developed economies (OECD 2004).

[7] The World Bank, the United Nations, the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), Eurostat/the European Commission and the International Labour Organisation share the concern for and produce gender responsive analyses. UK, Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand and Canada have some gender budget initiatives (OECD 2004). Gender budgets “analyse how governments raise and spend public money, with the aim of securing gender equality in decision making about public resource allocation and gender equality in the distribution of the impact of government budgets, both in their benefits and their burdens. ( Judd, 2002) Gender budgeting is an application of gender mainstreaming in the budgetary process. It means a gender-based assessment of budgets, incorporating a gender perspective at all levels of the budgetary process and restructuring revenues and expenditures in order to promote gender equality” ( The Council of Europe) (OECD 2004: 20).

[8] Québec declined to join. Québec has an impressive child care program based on childcare as a right. Mahon (2003) argues for a universally-accessible child care system but acknowledges the distinct rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis to determine their own services (Mahon 2004:13)

[9] For an in-depth discussion refer to the excellent series on social architecture specifically to Saint-Martin (2004) and Jenson (2004).

[10] “Few issues aroused greater passion than the unequal treatment First Nations women experience as a result of the Indian Act. In short, affected First Nations women have been able to regain Indian status following the passage of Bill C-31 in 1985, but they continue to experience discrimination. This stems from Indian Act provisions that effectively deny their grandchildren Indian status if and when their children marry non-Aboriginal partners. As well, many First Nations have refused to give women the right to return to their communities, or have forced their non-status children to move off-reserve upon reaching the age of majority (Status of Women Canada 2002).”

[11] This means that city-regions like Vancouver and Toronto, where there is the highest concentration of poverty, are at a disadvantage in seeking funding.

[12] The 1995 The Federal Plan for Gender Equality was committed to the promotion of “the valuation of paid and unpaid work performed by women, women’s equitable participation in the paid and unpaid labour force and the equitable sharing of work and family responsibilities between women and men; encourages women’s entrepreneurship; and promotes the economic security and well-being of women.”

[13] Japan has a worse record but women in the US fare better than Canadian women.

[14] The Paris-based OECD is working proactively to recruit women for upper management positions as a “matter of utility and self-interest.” They refer to recent studies of Fortune 500 by the Bank of Montreal (2004) which confirm that women in management lead to profitability in large private sector companies [15] Increased female enrolment in education and training programs or small business loans are not sufficient indicators with which to measure the degree to which women freely access adequate employment

[16] In 2000 16% of all women in their twenties had incomes below Stats Canada’s low-income cut-offs [17] This consists of over six hours of unpaid domestic activities for married and single mothers [18] Over thirty five years ago the Royal Commission the Status of Women in Canada revealed that a child care system was pivotal to women’s equality generally and that governments had a major role to play. (Mahon 2004). In her discussion paper on an appropriate framework for early child care and learning, Mahon situates the child as a rights-bearing actor (Mahon 2004: 3).

[19] Diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases are two of the chronic diseases listed as endemic globally. WHO and Health Canada are jointly confronting the global epidemic of these and other chronic diseases.

[20] 47% of Canadian women in their twenties reported at least one instance of physical abuse from a former partner [21] Some of these departments and agencies support community-based projects initiated and managed by Aboriginal women’s groups.

[22] Although mass media sound bytes continues to prefer the taxes-versus-service dichotomy.

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