Equal Pay Day is a Feminist Call to Action

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch was a reminder that while we can shoot a car into space, we are unable to solve persistent social problems such as pay equity. What a time to be alive!

Equal Pay Day, marked this year on April 10, draws attention to what has always been one of the most glaring symptom of gender inequality in our society. How can it be that in 2018 women still do not receive equal pay for work of equal value? Perhaps this reflects our misaligned priorities? Or the misaligned priorities of men who still largely dominate financial and political decision-making.

It has been thirty years since Ontario first brought in pay equity legislation – thirty years. It should alarm us all that such little progress has been made in closing these wide and unacceptable gender pay gaps.

According to the Equal Pay Coalition, the gender pay gap in Ontario is 31%. Put another way, a woman would need to work 14 years longer than a man to retire with the same earnings. It is important to recognize that while 31% is an average, the gap substantially increases for Indigenous women (57%), women with disabilities (46%), and racialized and immigrant women (37% to 39%).

It has been thirty years since Ontario first brought in pay equity legislation – thirty years. It should alarm us all that such little progress has been made in closing these wide and unacceptable gender pay gaps.

Here in Toronto, which prides itself to be one of the world’s most livable cities and a “global centre for business, finance, arts and culture,” inequality is rising along racial, gender, and neighborhood lines. Across all YWCA Toronto programs, we have seen an increase in women living in extreme poverty. One in four children live in poverty – that increases to 83% for Indigenous children. In our city, the reality does not match the rhetoric.

So how do we address growing inequality? What tools do we have at our disposal? The Ontario government’s new pay transparency bill is one option, but the Equal Pay Coalition is calling for amendments, including expanding the bill to include all private and public sector employers with more than 10 employees. Women who are Indigenous, racialized, or newcomers are predominantly employed in small market and retail industries. Action on pay equity requires an inclusive lens and an understanding that this is an issue of racial inequality too.

Last year, Ontario’s Gender Wage Gap Steering Committee’s top recommendation was – you may have guessed it – investing in child care. Child care provides a path out of poverty and enables women to participate equally in the labour force. It is an economic ‘no brainer’. Yet many women tell us they cannot afford child care fees. Barriers increase for women who are precariously employed and work when quality child care is not available. And child care workers, who are predominantly women, still do not receive professional pay. We need to see solutions from all political parties.

Let’s talk about the burden of unpaid care work which falls heavily on women. If women are valued as equal members of society, in all spheres of life, it logically follows that the costs associated with unpaid care work will be distributed in a much more equitable manner. This will free time for women to pursue their passions, socialize with friends and family, engage in self-care, and participate in cultural and civic activities – all are important to mental and physical wellbeing.

As the #MeToo movement continues to generate awareness about sexual violence, let’s also talk about the connection between gender-based violence and economic inequality. When women’s work is devalued at the societal level, when women and their children live in poverty, and when women do not have financial independence, this sets the conditions for disempowerment and the potential for violence. It should be extremely clear that in order to effectively address gender-based violence, we must address women’s economic inequality and prioritize closing the gender pay gap.

Can you imagine what equal pay for work of equal value, universal child care, and other important social goods like guaranteed safe, affordable and adequate housing for all would mean in addressing gender-based violence, racism, and inequality in Canadian society? We can – it would mean a fair society for all!

This Equal Pay Day, join us in supporting the critical work of the Equal Pay Coalition to close the gender pay gap. With a provincial election on the horizon, let’s seize this moment to demand action towards a just society for all women.

Etana Cain, Manager of Advocacy and Communications & Jasmine Ramze Rezaee, Senior Marketing and Advocacy Officer