My Response to the Minister’s Statement on International Women’s Day

I am proud to rise today on behalf of Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath, leader of the only parliamentary caucus in Canada with a majority of women, to reflect on International Women’s Day.

So much of what we have accomplished in Ontario has been a result of the pioneering sisters who toiled before us, and for that we are profoundly grateful. But much remains to be done to address the issues of economic insecurity and violence that are the reality for far too many Ontario women.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Women in the Changing World of Work,” a theme that is particularly relevant right now in our province. Rapid workplace changes are creating opportunities for some, but are leaving far too many women behind. Women are more likely than men to work in jobs that are part-time, that are low-paid and that provide no benefits. This is especially the case for women who are black, indigenous, or women of colour. But after four years in office and three majority governments, the Liberals have done little to improve women’s experience in the changing world of work.

Women make up the majority of Ontario’s minimum-wage workers. Economic security means not only having enough for these women to cover their monthly expenses, but also being able to build a future. It means not having to worry that a major life event such as losing a job or getting sick will result in poverty. A $15 minimum wage is a first and critical step to achieve women’s economic security, but it is a step the Liberals are refusing to take.

Even though more women are working today than ever before, their share of income still lags far behind that of men, with a gender wage gap that is stagnant at 30% regardless of where women work or what work they do. This gap increases to 39% for immigrant women and to 57% for indigenous women. But the Liberals continue to drag their heels on the strategies needed to close the gender wage gap, strategies that advocates have been calling for for years.

Not only do women earn less than men; they also shoulder the enormous burden of unpaid care and domestic work. Women are 20 times more likely than men to report that lack of access to child care is a barrier to workforce entry. The Liberal government’s refusal to create a true system of child care widens the gender wage gap and leaves women with children earning 12% to 20% less than women without children—that is, if a family is lucky enough to find child care. In Toronto alone, there are approximately 17,000 children on a waiting list for subsidized care. In the face of these pressures, instead of supporting an NDP private member’s bill to invest in high-quality, affordable non-profit child care, the Liberals are prepared to invest instead in the growth of traded, private sector child care businesses, which research shows are lower quality.

Finally, there is the issue of violence against women. This last year, we’ve heard judges telling women to keep their knees together to avoid being raped. We’ve heard about police routinely dismissing one in five cases of sexual assault as not even worth investigating. And we’ve seen a continuing epidemic of domestic violence that shows no sign of letting up.

If we are serious about stemming the tide of violence against women, paid leave for domestic violence and sexual violence has to be more than just a footnote in the Changing Workplaces Review. Employment is a key pathway for women to leave an abusive relationship, and women who experience violence should not have to risk the loss of their job because of the violence they have experienced. If there is one thing we can collectively do immediately to change the world of work for women for the better, it is providing this paid leave. Women should not have to choose between their job and their safety. The Liberal government has an opportunity to show leadership on this issue by moving my private member’s bill, Bill 26, through committee now so that it can be passed into law in the province of Ontario.

Speaker, gender inequality serves no one and costs everyone. By working together to achieve equality for women in Ontario, we will strengthen this province for all of us.