While we like to think there has been some improvement in women’s wages, StatsCan reports that women earn around a 72-cent dollar today, just like they did 18 years ago. Stunningly, four times in the last 18 years, women’s wages in Canada actually declined with respect to men’s, only to recover, but ultimately leaving women just where they were right around when NAFTA began.
There is some good news, though. There are many instances of near wage parity in some sectors, which also just happen to have relatively high union density: health, art, culture, recreation and sport. Last year, the average hourly wage for unionized women from 25 to 54 years old was 93.7 per cent of men’s hourly wages. Sadly, but not surprisingly, non-unionized women’s hourly wages, in the same age category, were only 79.4 per cent of men’s.
Canada also ranks low among industrialized nations for representation of women in political and corporate leadership, both on boards of directors and in senior management. We also do a poor job of respecting, and legitimizing rewarding, part-time work and family leave for child or elder care.
It’s easy to blame some nebulous aspect of human nature for tolerating injustices that have been around for too long. Things that are new and startling tend to capture our attention – until they, too, become commonplace. Then they become just normal. Like the 72-cent dollar: a constant reminder of our society’s complacency with gender inequity.
How can we shake our society out of this stupor? I believe a combination of enhanced ecological sensibilities and feminism might help – as well as the tale of our honeybee’s decline.
Of the many flavours of feminism, one of the most compelling is ecofeminism. In the same neighbourhood as ecosocialism, ecofeminism asserts that the dominant powers in society view nature and women in the same way: as passive objects for domination and exploitation.
Changing our way of thinking and becoming mindful of how we interact with others, and of the environmental footprint of all the goods and services we consume, means recognizing and questioning unbalanced power dynamics in our workplaces, relationships and material existence. And when we change how we think about our relationship with our world, we will, surely, break out of the complacency that allows the 72-cent dollar.
Like socio-economic inequality for women, the world’s biodiversity decline has become “normal,” and is similarly neglected by our society. With tens of thousands of species sliding into extinction in recent decades, we’ve become numb to the numbers. It’s easy to dismiss the trend as one that affects only bugs and critters. Being at the top of the food chain means we ought to be concerned about how this loss of biodiversity will affect us. But since we’re still here, most of us eating what we want, we become deluded, thinking we’re immune. That is, until a system shock wakes us up.
We’ve heard in recent years about “honeybee colony collapse disorder,” with 60 to 90 per cent of the honeybees in some colonies dying since previous summers. We need to start drawing lines between biodiversity decline and the consequences on a myriad of food chains that, while worthy in their own right, ultimately supply our food chain.
Climate change/breakdown, pesticides, viruses, malnutrition, GMOs, antibiotics, and even itinerant bee rental are all possible suspects responsible for the collapse, but there is no one clear cause. What is clear is that without bees around to pollinate our plants, we will have a food crisis and risk mass starvation and societal upheaval, along with the effects of climate change.
We ignore the plight of the honeybees, the decline in biodiversity, rising extinctions, and threats to our food chain, at our peril. Similarly, we all too easily ignore contemporary socio-economic inequities like the 72-cent dollar.
Morley Gunderson, director of the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources at the University of Toronto, has noted the absence of a “single dominant factor that would sustain discriminatory wage differentials,” but “a number of small contributing factors” conspire to maintain gender inequity.
When I hear this, I think of the host of suspects potentially responsible for the collapse of the honeybees. I think that the lack of a simple, observable, direct cause of a 72-cent dollar means it might seem too complex to address. But then I also look to ecofeminism and how it challenges us to embrace this complexity undaunted, and to confront unhealthy mindsets, for the sake of both gender equity and ecological equilibrium.
The above is a version of my commentary piece in the International Women’s Day issue of Our Times, Canada’s independent labour magazine.