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Economic Equality

In simple terms, economic equality is about a level playing field where everyone has the same access to the same wealth. Some people think that this already exists in Canada (we’ve all heard the saying “If you work hard enough, you can achieve anything”). But that’s simply not true. Poor people aren’t poor because they want to be. And not all wealthy people got what they have through hard work.

Lots of women’s groups, including YWCA Canada, believe there should be economic equality between men and women. As long as there isn’t, women’s equality will not be fully achieved.

Did you know?

In Canada:

  • Women are over-represented among the poorest people seniors, women leading lone-parent families, women with disabilities, and Aboriginal women experience the worst of it.
  • Single mothers have a median net worth of about $17,000, while single dads have about $80,000 (net worth is the total value of possessions such as a car, furniture, real estate, savings, stocks, RRSPs, etc.).*
  • In 2008, women working full-time for the full year earned 71% of what men earned, on average (university-educated women only earned 68% of what their male counterparts did that year).*
  • Unemployment continues to be a serious problem for women, with Aboriginal women and women with disabilities twice as likely to be unemployed as other women.*
  • Seven out of ten part-time workers and 66% of minimum wage earners are women.* *
  • The wage gap between women and men has been stuck at 7072% since the 1970s, and is often wider for women who are older, Aboriginal, or of colour.*

Individual versus systemic

Sometimes, an idea or attitude is so dominant in a society, it’s practically unconscious. When enough people see something as “just the way it is,” a number of societal systems are impacted. Think of it as a vicious cycle: widespread attitudes about something lead to inequitable systems which, in turn, serve to reinforce the attitudes that created them.

Roots and Solutions

Womens economic inequality stems from several key factors.

First of all, women shoulder most of societys unpaid work (housework, childcare, meal preparation, eldercare, etc.), leaving less time for paid employment. This comes from a lack of institutional support (government, agencies) and often, a lack of individual (partner, family) support.

The work women do for no pay is consistently undervalued by society. This undervaluing has become a systemic problem that negatively impacts women in far-reaching ways.

Too many women are forced to take part-time, seasonal, contract, or temporary jobs at low pay, long hours, no security, with few (if any) opportunities for advancement, and no health benefits or pension. The issues are compounded for migrant women, women of colour, or women without immigration status.

Most poor women in Canada are working, but cant earn enough to lift themselves out of poverty.

Lately, there has been a lot of talk in the news about the market and the economy. When governments make decisions about how to tax us and how to spend our tax dollars, they are usually guided by the state of the economy. Because women earn less than men (on average), we are under-represented in terms of whats called market income. That means we dont reap as many benefits when governments implement tax breaks, and we are more negatively affected when governments cut spending to various programs.

Womens economic inequality will only worsen until problems like these are addressed:

  • pay discrimination (the 2004 federal Pay Equity Task Force made some great recommendations which government has yet to enact)
  • low wages and/or long hours (many people believe the minimum wage should be standardized across Canada — it currently varies between provinces/territories — and that it should be increased to the point where all full-time workers can live above the poverty line)
  • lack of affordable access to services like child care and elder care
  • too few women-friendly policies in the workplace, pregnancy sensitivity

More unionization would also help the situation — did you know that women in unions earn an average of eight dollars more per hour? Governments need to make it easier for people to join unions, especially women.

(Labour unionization is when co-workers organize into a group to speak as a united body to their employer about various aspects of their work — wages, hours, benefits, workplace health and safety, equality, and other work-related issues.)

Government policies must take women into account better. YWCA Canada has called for the federal government to make better investments in the kinds of policies that will support womens economic security.


Drawing on the experiences she had with her mother, Sophia Gran-Ruaz decided that care packages would be a great way to show women and children in shelters, who are often overlooked and judged, that their communities care for them. She founded Snug as a Bug, Kids Helping Kids when she was just 11 to compile and distribute care packages containing everything from toiletries to school supplies to toys, solicited from businesses and individual donors. In its first year, “Snug” created 500 care packages for two Toronto shelters; the next year, 1,000 packages for three. In January 2010, a whopping 3,300 packages were delivered to thirteen shelters across the Greater Toronto Area. All told, “Snug” has positively impacted thousands of women and children. Shortly after winning the Top Teen Philanthropist Award in 2010, Sophia appeared on a cover spread in Vervegirl Magazine that generated emails from hundreds of young women across Canada who were inspired to Think Big/Start Small. She also received a YWCA Young Woman of Distinction Award in 2011

Exercise: Your Story

Have you or your family ever struggled to make ends meet? Had a hard time paying for tuition fees? Experienced employment that was unstable or low-paying? Have you struggled to care for your family due to a lack of benefits or pension? Whether or not you share your personal story with others, contemplating your own experiences with this issue is an important step toward becoming more engaged with the effort to ensure economic equality.

3 Things You Can Do

Get involved. There are many groups working to create economic equality in Canada. Check out who’s doing what in your community to raise the minimum wage, advocate for pay equity, push for affordable child care, and to support women in poverty. They need you.

Pass it on. Discuss the matter of economic equality in your classes, at the family dinner table, at your extra-curricular activities, at your workplace, even at your place of worship. The more people who know about and understand the problem, the more likely they are to contribute to solutions.

Volunteer. While we address “big” issues like economic equality, there are a thousand “small” ways to make a difference close to home. Think about contributing some time to a local food bank, homeless shelter, or maybe an after-school program for students in low-income neighbourhoods. Not only is it rewarding to support community in this way, it gives you a valuable up-close look at inequality in real-life terms.