The Canadian Mental Health Association believes that social inequality has damaging consequences for women’s mental well-being. Inequalities continue to exist for Canadian women with respect to family life, education, training, employment, and decision-making roles in society. Although a small proportion of women are benefiting from policies designed to increase access to professional occupations that command higher incomes, the vast majority of women remain in low-status, low-income jobs. So far, efforts toward implementing employment and pay equity policies have had little impact. Women continue to be over represented among the economically disadvantaged.
On average, women earn significantly less money than do men, and women are more likely than men to face income loss due to unemployment. Despite the myth of the male breadwinner earning enough to support a wife and family, large numbers of women must work to maintain an adequate family income or are the sole economic providers for themselves and their families. Elderly women are particularly likely to be poor. The link between women’s economic circumstances and their mental health is strong and compelling and extends across cultures and economic systems. Women and men have an equal right to participate in public life and to take leadership roles in civil society. Women participate in the paid labour economy for the same reasons as men: necessity, as well as the personal satisfaction of having their skills recognized. Social equality for women will augment social equality for men. For example, when employers recognize family responsibilities as a legitimate reason for benefits and time off, this advance will help both men and women in the workforce. There will be greater flexibility for men to take care of their children and sick or elderly relatives. The labour market will become more people-oriented. Informed by a commitment to social change and community action which over time will contribute to the emotional strength and autonomy of women in the workforce, the National Board of CMHA has endorsed the following recommendations.
- Women’s access to employment must be enhanced by funding for and creation of a sufficient number of child care spaces through the establishment of a comprehensive Canadian child care program.
- Universal access to child care must be legislated.
- Standards of care must be established and be legislated. Non-profit, high-quality child care must be available, and child care must be culturally appropriate.
- Child care must be more flexible and should include 24-hour service (to accommodate shift workers, for example) as well as provisions for contingencies and for sick children who do not require medical intervention but who cannot participate in the program.
- Governments must legislate parental and family responsibility leave for all workers.
Employment Equity and Pay Equity
- Federal, provincial, and municipal governments across Canada must develop and enforce employment equity and pay equity programs.
- These efforts must include a thorough examination of systemic discrimination against women, as well as an examination of the gaps that exist between the earning power of women and men. Women must enjoy equal opportunities to pursue diverse careers in both traditional and non-traditional occupations.
- Government, business and industry must recruit women for high-status, higher-paying jobs in sufficient numbers to reflect women’s workforce participation.
Educational and Training Programs
- Canada’s educational system, beginning at the primary level and continuing through college and university, must develop curricula to encourage girls and boys, women and men, to investigate all academic areas. Teachers and educational materials must facilitate the training of girls and women in math and science as well as in languages and social sciences. Every student must have the intellectual foundations and social encouragement to enter all potential career fields.
- Educational and training programs must offer women the opportunity for full participation. Government, business and industry must fund diverse programs which actively recruit women to train for higher-paying positions, roles in senior technical and management areas, varied career-path opportunities and non-traditional occupations.
- Governments must mandate and employers must ensure full access to jobs, promotions and benefits for women.
- Sexual harassment imposes very serious barriers to women’s labour force participation since it challenges women’s right to belong in the work world. As an employer, CMHA commits itself to a work and meeting environment free of sexual innuendo and harassment and calls on all employers to do likewise.