BY BONITA ZARRILLO
NDP MP for Port Moody—Coquitlam
CANADA’S theme for International Women’s Day 2023 is Every Woman Counts. But the reality is that this is still only a hope for too many women in Canada today. Too many women continue to be sidelined by poor pay, multiple jobs, and a lack of choices – in childcare, in education, and even in employment.
Canada’s Care Economy – which includes the healthcare system – is in crisis. But the Care Economy is the backbone of Canada’s economy and employs 1 in 5 Canadians. The physical, psychological, and emotional care of people is encompassed by the Care Economy. Without it, society simply cannot function.
Women are overrepresented in the Care Economy. According to Statistics Canada, they comprise 80 per cent of workers in health occupations, hold 68 per cent of teaching roles and professorships, and more than 95 per cent of childcare workers are women. All are typically paid less than men in the same roles.
Along with gender discrimination, racism is intertwined within the Care Economy’s systems. Immigration policies targeting care workers are designed to control access to status or citizenship. At the same time, newcomers, undocumented and low-income women are especially vulnerable to exploitation and precarious working conditions. Black and Filipina women are overrepresented within the Care Economy and they are some of the most exploited within care work. The collective prejudice towards care has resulted in a “common-sense” understanding or shared belief that care work is unskilled work and therefore can receive low compensation. This is wrong.
Now is the time for the federal government to step up and end that discrimination. It is time for them to do the work required to improve the working conditions of nurses and other Care Economy workers across this country.
We trust our care safety net in Canada, but it has not received the recognition, support, or respect it deserves for a very long time. Whether a Canadian is seeking healthcare, long-term care, childcare, education, dental care, or needs a personal support worker, they expect that quality care will be available, along with the workers, institutions, and systems that enable the delivery of that care.
Our society is dependent on the emotional and physical work of those in the Care Economy: we need to recognize and value this essential work and treat fairly those who take care of us. Crucial policy actions to bring equity to the Care Economy include better and faster credential recognition for training received outside Canada; raising hourly wages of care workers; guaranteeing paid sick days; and supporting access to affordable childcare, mental health supports, dental care and Pharmacare.
At no other time in history have the consequences of biases and approaches towards care been as visible as they are today. In the past three years, many have made the choice (or been forced) to change the way they work, and this has exposed the inequities that both paid and unpaid care workers face. We can build a better future by uplifting the Care Economy, recognizing its significance in government budgets, and properly remunerating the people behind it – those who are dedicating their lives to caring for us and our families.
On this International Women’s Day, I urge Canadians from coast to coast to coast, to champion the valuable work of women in the Care Economy by calling for better pay and working conditions. When we achieve that, Canadians will know that Every Woman Counts.