Report by Monica Townson, 2009. Published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Available in the ESPC library.

The recession is on everyone’s mind these days. As stimulus packages are rolled out, governments aim to develop strategies for helping vulnerable groups within their communities. One thing we often forget, however, is that within every vulnerable population, women are hit harder than men.

This report highlights key issues related to women’s poverty while also discussing poverty in general. Townson asks whether stimulus programs incorporate prior anti-poverty strategies or place them on a backburner. She also points out that stimulus programs may actually increase the numbers of those living in poverty, especially women.

As an example of this, Townson points to the fact that our federal stimulus package does nothing to address problems with the current Employment Insurance program. The majority of the unemployed do not qualify for benefits, and women are more likely to be denied than men. Women are also more likely than men to supplement their Employment Insurance with additional earnings, to make ends meet.

Poverty among women has many faces—including the immigrant, aboriginal, lone-parent, senior, or disabled. It can leave women lacking key resources:

  • the income to participate fully in the social and political life of their community
  • affordable child care, which in turn limits their employment opportunities and other activities
  • the ability to save for retirement.

Women’s poverty results primarily from two things: how women are treated when they are employed, and the situation they find themselves in when they’re unemployed. Women earn an average of 65.7% of the wages their male counterparts do. In addition, women are more likely to find themselves in lower-paid positions or in non-standard work where benefits or job security are not available.

Most anti-poverty initiatives focus on specific programs that do not explicitly target women. For example, we have recognized that many children are poor because their parents are poor; we have implemented programs focused on child welfare, and we monitor these to see if they have had positive effects on the child. We forget, however, that poor children live in low-income families often headed by lone-parent women, and we don’t track whether these single mothers are benefiting equally from the programs. We focus on the “feel good” side of alleviating child poverty while forgetting that the poverty status of children hinges on their parents. In today’s world, according to Townson, “it has become more acceptable to talk about child poverty than women’s poverty”.

What’s the best solution? Townson provides key characteristics of effective strategies:

  • They must be comprehensive and integrated so that all members of a population will benefit.
  • They need to have clear and specific goals, targets, and timelines.
  • Progress must be measured regularly and reported on publicly.
  • The strategy must be transparent and publicly promoted
  • Strategies must be developed with the participation of stakeholders
  • Accountability must be built into the program.

Townson also suggests policies specifically related to women’s poverty, including changes to Canada’s EI system, increases in minimum wage, Guaranteed Income Supplements for single older women, and restoration of funding to child care programs. She also advocates for gender analysis of data gathered by program monitoring systems; women cannot be allowed to slip through the gap.

Read this report if you’re interested in anti-poverty, women’s issues, or child welfare.

Review by Jennifer Hoyer 

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