Wednesday, March 08, 2006

International Women's Day

Unfortunately, women, like other marginalized groups, still have a long way to go. Domestic violence, sexual abuse, and women's poverty are still endemic.

According to the United Nations, women do 2/3 of the world's work yet earn only 5% of the world's income and own less than 1% of the world's real property. Women often lack resources that might help them get out of poverty. This includes capital, land, and borrowing opportunities. (Source)

Although we have come a long way in many respects, economically we have a long way to go. In Canada, women still earn on average only 63.6% of men's earnings. Women are more likely to be employed in precarious "pink collar" jobs, often part-time. Don't forget, women's poverty is difficult to measure, because if they reside in a family that is above the poverty line, they are considered non-poor, despite the fact that women often have unequal access to resources within marriage. Women often go without so their husbands and children can have. The situation for single mothers is abysmal. 34% are below the poverty line (compared to 12.6% of single father-headed households) - and they are way below the line. The average income of lone parent families headed by women was $6,300 below the poverty line. (Source)

In the USA the situation is similar. For the same year (2003) 35.5% of single mother-headed households are below the poverty line. Compare to 19.1% of single father-headed households. For women of colour it is even worse - 42.8%. (Source)
Of course, how they measure poverty in US is pretty uninformed. Using only the cost of food as its measure, it doesn't account for proper inflation since it was implemented in the 60's. The cost of food has increased far less than the cost of transportation and housing.

Moreover, many hard-won liberties are slipping away. The South Dakota abortion ban in the US, for example. Here in Canada, we've already had our family allowances taken away, and now we elected a PM who pledged another tax credit (which does nothing for the poorest among us) instead of national daycare.

So with all the great things the past generations of feminists have done, why are we still struggling? Why has poverty become a women's issue? Well, I'm not sure I know the answer to that, but I read something interesting this morning. The book Rebel Sell blames counter-cultural mistakes. Firstly, instead of focusing on reforming the rules to counter structural injustices, the counter culture in the 60's and 70's was interested in destroying the rules totally. Unfortunately, free love and reduction in responsibilities, was often in men's interests to the detriment of women, who in the final instance are left with the responsibility for the kids. Lacking cultural pressure to marry and support a "knocked-up" woman, for example, many men abandoned their children, leaving single women in serious economic trouble. This is an interesting argument, but I don't think it tells the whole picture. Some of the problem is probably the sheer immensity of the injustice. Thousands of years of patriarchy means it is still pretty strongly rooted. I'll have to think on this some more.

However, the more we stick to our convictions, and the more generations pass with freer women as role models, the better things will get.

So, stay strong sisters!

More on Women's Rights, Poverty & Class Issues

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