It looks like we women are back on our own to bring about the full citizenship and participation of women in New Brunswick society. One generation of New Brunswick women, at least, had a publicly funded ally, in the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, in creating this fairer world.
When the suffragettes worked for 50 years to have New Brunswick women’s right to vote recognized, and when women in 60s and 70s New Brunswick got the ball going again for rights and for an Advisory Council, most of them were not also in paid employment, contrary to most women today.
But we have no choice but to buck up and add “equality” work to our busy schedules. If we don’t, the collective rights of women, of our daughters and grand-daughters, as well as the quality of life of all our descendants, male and female, will suffer. No social justice reform has ever come about without public pressure having been exercised. Note that Stephen Harper has also made sure that advocacy and research can no longer be done with Status of Women Canada funds.
As a New Brunswick women’s group put it in the 1800s, Agitate, Educate and Organize is the only thing that ever improved women’s status.
If this is my last column, here is a list of the work left to do, which I entrust to all citizens of good will.
• Have governments produce an independent report on the progress made towards reducing inequality between the sexes, in all aspects of New Brunswick society. Or else we won’t have a complete picture, and will be vulnerable to those who would say that things are going well because government is working on a few non-controversial women’s issues of its choosing. We’re all appreciative that victims of violence have services, but, in other news – 73% of men’s salaries is not enough, no access to child care is a poor reason to not be a mother or to be a stay-at-home mother, and discrimination based on sex stinks.
• Have all governments’ and institutions’ strategies take sex into consideration: Before launching a budget, measure whether it treats everyone fairly or whether it will actually increase inequality, which other public programs will then have to try to fix. For example, when planning how to reduce poverty, overcome the reigning political correctness which forbids looking at issues based on sex – face up to the fact that often men become and stay poor for rather different reasons than women. You won’t be effective if you don’t acknowledge this.
• Have New Brunswick employers, unions and governments create family friendly policies and environments, so that women don’t have to sacrifice earnings, health or well-being in order to reconcile work and family, so that New Brunswick families can have the number of children they actually want, so that we become a good place for families.
• Have skills shortage initiatives consider recruiting girls and women and consider implementing the successful campaigns many other more competitive jurisdictions have. Ask why we were doing better in the 90s in getting girls and women into non-traditional trades than we are now.
• Express outrage that governments have not even noticed, let alone expressed outrage, at the government survey results that show that more and more New Brunswickers blame battered women for provoking the violence. Where is the action plan? Why is violence against women as common as ever despite massive community efforts and the millions spent?
• End our silence about the status of our Aboriginal sisters.
• Have all New Brunswickers working in traditionally female positions benefit from the same right that was given to public sector workers: equal pay for work of equal value, so that employers don’t continue to benefit from the age-old “discount” on women’s salaries.
• Hold all our sons, partners, brothers, fathers and male colleagues responsible for rejecting sexism in their language, their actions and among their peers.
• Notice every day until it is no longer true, that very few officials, commentators and quoted experts are women in this province and that this absence goes unnoticed. Ask yourselves and political parties, how the fact that the great majority of our elected leaders are from one gender is skewing how we are governed and what issues are addressed.
• Notice every day until it is no longer true, that the worst paid jobs often involve care work.
• Do not let one more politician or party person go unchallenged when they pay lip service to the need for more women in politics. Ask why women’s underrepresentation, a situation which is not improving with time, is not the focus of an action plan by parties, governments or Election NB? The decision to abolish the Advisory Council is more evidence that women’s voices no matter how loud are not heard when we are in minority situations – eight women in the Legislature is evidently not enough.
• Ask why there are so many incidents of woman abuse and homicide in New Brunswick and what is being done to reduce these numbers – not treat the victims, but reduce the incidence of violence.
• Insist on noticing that the great majority of sexual assault victims are women, and the vast majority of those accused of sexual assault are men, and ask why.
• Demand that we reduce the 50% poverty rate among female lone parents with preschoolers. Ponder why we tolerate a teen birth rate that is higher than the Canadian rate, which in turn is much higher than some other countries.
And when we’ve accomplished all this, we’re still not done. There will always be new threats to hard-won gains and fresh injustices on the horizon.
Thanks to the New Brunswickers who read my column faithfully and told me so since my appointment.
Good luck to us and remember to have fun.