As I raced against the clock to complete my tax return by the April 30th deadline, I was reminded that, while I make a reasonable income, many women do not.
The wage gap between women and men remains pretty much stuck at 30%, with the gap considerably greater for women who are racialized, Indigenous, migrant/immigrant, sexual minorities or gender variant or who have disabilities.
Labour organizations, including many unions, have established Equal Pay Day as an annual opportunity to draw public attention to this significant and ongoing economic inequality.
In 2018, Equal Pay Day was April 11th, which marks how many days into 2018 women have to work to earn as much money as men earned by December 31, 2017. For women from marginalized groups, Equal Pay Day does not arrive until May or June.
According to the CBC, the person with the potential to earn the most money gets the biggest say in family decisions about money. Women working full time but with less earning power than men as well as women working part time or staying at home because of parenting responsibilities don’t just have less money to spend – they have less say than their spouse or common-law partner in how family decisions about money are made.
It is not uncommon for an abusive partner to control the family’s finances. There are a lot of ways this can unfold: making all the spending decisions; holding all the money in a bank account in his name only; providing his partner with a limited allowance and requiring her to provide receipts for what she has spent the money on before he will give her more; running up family debt without his partner being aware of it.
Whatever the specific tactics, where the abuser earns more money than his partner, according to the CBC there is a pre-existing likelihood that he will have a bigger say in financial decision making.
Economics 101 for women
Because women so often emerge from their intimate relationships with less than their fair share of property and facing a future of poverty because of inadequate support payments and low wages, several years ago NAWL (the National Association of Women and the Law) developed resources for young women to help increase their financial/legal literacy.
Called “A woman’s guide to money, relationships and the law in Ontario,” this resource provides helpful information about the different legal rights and responsibilities for people who get married or live in a common-law relationship; the role that domestic contracts can play; what financial abuse can look like, and the issues of property division, spousal support and child support.
Perhaps with this kind of knowledge, women will feel more comfortable insisting that a potential partner put his financial cards on the table before they inextricably entwine their economic future with him.
A gender-based analysis
She notes that tax policy claiming to be gender-neutral while implementing tax cuts has a negative impact on women for two primary reasons. First, the tax cuts don’t reach 38% of women in Canada who don’t earn enough money to pay taxes. Second, tax cuts mean there is less money for public services, many of them services that are very important to women.
Similarly, pension-income splitting introduced by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in 2007 cost the government more than $12 billion by 2012 and mostly benefited men, who claimed 89% of the money that resulted.
Money really does make the world go round
Without equal pay or gender-equality budgets, women will remain vulnerable to abuse in their intimate relationships and, along with their children, to living in poverty if they leave those relationships.
Happily, there are some models for change to inspire us:
- Ontario’s Basic Income Guarantee pilot will give us some hard data on whether putting enough money to live decently directly into the hands of individuals has a positive impact on women’s economic status and, perhaps, on whether it enables women to leave abusive relationships sooner
- The CCPA Alternative Federal Budget reflects gendered issues like the amount of unpaid work in the home women do compared to men (10 more hours/week) and who is taking paid parental leave (89% women)
- Ontario’s 2018 budget promises free child care for children between 2 1/2 and kindergarten age, which will have a significant impact on women’s ability to enter or return to the workforce
These are just a few of the models out there that could move women closer to economic equality. Ontario is at a turning point as we race towards the June 7th election. We need to do our best to ensure that Doug Ford and his Conservatives do not form the next government. If they do, women’s economic equality and countless other equally important issues will be discarded in favour of his right-wing agenda.