10 June 2008

Commissioner of Gender Equality "outdated tokenism," says Globe

In my blog post of June 6th I wrote favourably of St├ęphane Dion's promise that, should the Liberals be elected, he would establish a Commissioner of Gender Equality. In an editorial on June 9th, the Globe and Mail charged that such a move would be "outdated tokenism."

The commissioner would examine gender-equality practices in all government departments, scrutinize existing programs and policies to see if they are in line with the Federal Plan for Gender Equality, and report annually to Parliament. These, Mr. Dion added triumphantly, are "bold steps."

If so, they are bold steps backward...

Since 1995, Ottawa has required its departments and agencies to conduct gender-based analysis of proposed policies and legislation, where appropriate. The government, however, did not establish a commissioner to police its application.

Now, 13 years later, along comes Mr. Dion. Gender-based analysis may be a legitimate effort when examining such issues as the intricate tax implications of child-care proposals. But do we really want to run all existing federal policies through this lens? ... Radical feminist 1960s chic could wreak havoc on 2008 officialdom.

To the question asked in this editorial, yes, we do really want to run ALL existing federal policies through gender-based analysis. That is the point in the call by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women to establish a Commissioner of Gender Equality, to ensure that this is done.

Programs which are not obviously relevant to women can and indeed do affect the genders differently, not least because we don't both start out with equal opportunity. The issues are structural and systemic.

For example,

  • Women's income is still $0.70 for each $1.00 earned by a man. 
  • Women are less likely to be eligible for Employment Insurance because:
    • society places additional pressures on women to serve as caregivers and volunteers, which means
    • women are less in a position to be employed full-time and hence contribute to EI, obtain a decent salary and benefits, and accumulate the sufficient number of hours. For the same reasons, a woman who does manage to become EI eligible is likely to receive substantially lower benefits than those of a man.
  • Women are less likely to receive a decent pension when they retire, again because the work that they do, which society values in one sense, is not valued in another sense; conveniently, women do not get paid for their caregiving work.

For a good review of the issues, see Gender Budget Initiatives: Why they matter in Canada (PDF, 158 Kb).

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