Evidence of meeting #35 for Status of Women in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was women.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Andrée Côté  Women's and Human Rights Officer, National Programs Section, Public Service Alliance of Canada
  • Ellen Dubé  Educational Counsellor, Rosalie-Jetté School
  • Stefanie Lomatski  Executive Director, Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women
  • Bailey Reid  Chair, Public Engagement Committee, Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women

May 16th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

Hello and welcome to the 35th meeting of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. Today, we will continue our study of improving the economic status of Canadian girls.

Our guests today are Andrée Côté, a Women's and Human Rights Officer at the Public Service Alliance of Canada, and Ellen Dubé, an Educational Counsellor at École Rosalie-Jetté.

You will each have 10 minutes to make your presentation, and then we will go on to questions from committee members.

Ms. Côté, you have 10 minutes.

3:40 p.m.

Andrée Côté Women's and Human Rights Officer, National Programs Section, Public Service Alliance of Canada

Hello. I would like to thank you for this opportunity to make a presentation to this important committee, which has always played a role in ensuring that women's rights are respected and promoted in Canada. I truly appreciate it.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada is the largest federal public sector union. We represent more than 180,000 people from coast to coast to coast. While the majority of PSAC members work for the federal government and its agencies, PSAC also represents workers in the private sector.

I have prepared some written notes. Unfortunately, the translation was not ready, but I would invite the clerk of the committee to share the notes with you as soon as they are available. I will be presenting a summary of those notes today.

The theme that this committee is looking at today is truly an important theme. The need to improve the economic prospects for girls is a response to the fact that girls still remain confronted with the reality of discrimination and oppression in their early years.

Incest and sexual abuse is often perpetrated within the family. We know that two-thirds of sexual abuse occurs in a private home, and most victims of sexual assault are assaulted before the age of 25.

Racism, Islamophobia, discrimination against aboriginal peoples, homophobia, and discrimination against young girls with disabilities remain endemic. At least one in 10 girls lives in poverty. I'm not advocating child labour here, but when girls or young women work, they often work for minimum wages, part-time, and in jobs without benefits and that are dead-end.

Young girls living in rural regions—about 20% of the population—often do not have access to public transportation. There is little, if any, child care, and important services are sometimes not offered. I'm thinking, for example, of abortion services in regions. Young lesbians and queer girls are often isolated and even more marginalized in rural regions.

The proposed changes to the immigration and refugee law being discussed in this budget will further marginalize and disadvantage young girls. Thousands of people now receiving medication under the interim federal health program will no longer, as of June 30, 2012, be able to access that program. This will surely have a very harsh impact on young immigrant and refugee girls.

It goes without saying that there is much to be done to improve the economic status of girls. All in all, the measures that must be taken to improve their condition are similar to those that need to be taken to improve the situation of women. We are talking about political and social reforms that seek to transform the systemic nature of violence and discrimination against women, including economic discrimination.

What needs to be done to attack this problem? We will provide some suggestions, which of course do not make up an exhaustive list.

One of the first things we would consider and find important is improving health care for girl children on reserve. We know there is a very high birth rate among aboriginal girls, yet it's very difficult having a baby on a remote reserve, and in fact it's dangerous. We know, for example, that first nations women in Manitoba are twice as likely to watch their babies die as non-aboriginal women. Also, about 20% of babies in some Manitoban communities end up back in the hospital with respiratory tract disease. Fewer than one third of the babies born between 2003 and 2005 in Hollow Water and Sagkeeng, Manitoba, received routine vaccinations.

The federal government has a really important role to play here because it's the federal government that is responsible for health care on reserves. Funding is urgently needed, and safe water is urgently needed. We know that there are over 100 aboriginal communities under boil water advisories right now. Yet the federal government is about to pass Bill S-8, the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, which will shift responsibility to reserves but does not provide the funding necessary for this change.

Another program that is essential to the well-being of young girls is adequate funding for early childhood education. Canada is one of the richest countries in the world, and yet we rank at the low end of the international scale in terms of the quality of our childcare and our access to such services. In Canada, over 70% of mothers with children under the age of five are currently working outside the home. Yet, only 20% of children have access to regulated child care spaces. Quebec is one of the only provinces that has really invested public funds in daycares, with its famous $7 a day daycare. A recent study showed that the government brings in more money than it spends by subsidizing public child care networks.

Nevertheless, despite this evidence, in 2006, the federal government did away with the federal-provincial-territorial agreements regarding funding for child care services and replaced them with a benefit that costs a lot of money and, when it comes right down to it, offers parents very few choices.

Education of young girls on reserve is another key component of a successful strategy for economic prosperity. We know that the income gap disappears between aboriginal people and non-aboriginal people when university degrees are attained. However, only 8% of aboriginal people, compared to 22%, actually have university degrees at this time. So federal funding is urgently needed to ensure a better education on reserve.

With regard to employment equity policies, even today, seven out of 10 women still work in traditional fields: office work, education, social services and so on. The federal government's economic action plan and the Plan Nord in Quebec both contain two large projects that give very little to women because women are still excluded from the construction industry and major projects.

Employment equity policies need to be improved. In the budget that was tabled a few weeks ago, we once again see a step backward in terms of employment equity because the measures the federal government just announced will seriously weaken employment equity obligations for federal contractors.

Effective measures to protect young girls against workplace discrimination and harassment must be developed. They must be given information and help in exercising their rights. They must be given legal assistance and mechanisms for accessing justice. Once again, what do we see at the federal level? The federal government is attacking access to justice mechanisms. It eliminated the regional offices of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and abolished the court challenges program and the Law Reform Commission of Canada. That is not the path we should be following.

Pay equity is also needed. We know that, 30 years after the Canadian Human Rights Act was passed, women are still experiencing discrimination in the labour market and earn, on average, 70% less than men when they work full time year-round. In 2004, the federal government's pay equity task force recommended that a federal pay equity law be passed. Nevertheless, as soon as this government was elected, it announced that it had no intention of following those recommendations. We believe that this is an essential measure.

We recently won a pay equity case for our Canada Post members at the Supreme Court level. The women had to fight in court for almost 30 years for this. Clearly, the current system is not working and is ineffective.

We must protect public sector jobs. Jobs in the federal public service are a good source of employment for girls and women, and the cuts—

3:50 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

You have one minute left.

3:50 p.m.

Women's and Human Rights Officer, National Programs Section, Public Service Alliance of Canada

Andrée Côté

The current series of cuts will cause many women to lose relatively good paying jobs with decent retirement plans and social benefits. Often, they will be losing the benefits of unionization. The women who are left will be subject to a great deal more stress and illness in the workplace. We received a major report last week on mental health in Canada. There is certainly a link between working conditions and mental health.

Finally, we also support the recommendations that were presented to the committee members by the Canadian Labour Congress.

In conclusion, it is important to remember that Canada has made a lot of promises to the women and girls of this country, promises that became constitutional obligations in our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and promises that became international obligations when we ratified the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It is time that Canada took effective measures to respect these rights.

Thank you for your attention.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

Thank you, Ms. Côté.

Ms. Dubé, it is now your turn. You have 10 minutes.

3:50 p.m.

Ellen Dubé Educational Counsellor, Rosalie-Jetté School

Hello. I want to thank you for inviting us.

I want to talk about improving economic opportunities for girls in Canada from the perspective of the École Rosalie-Jetté, a secondary school in Montreal for pregnant girls and young mothers between 12 and 18. I will address our point of view in three sections.

I will begin by talking about the economic situation of our students and the history of the school. The story that brings us to our school's current mission began in 1845. That was the year when Rosalie Cadron-Jetté from Lavaltrie, a widow and mother of 11 children, took in unwed mothers, as they were called at the time, and their children. A few years later, the bishop at the time, Monsignor Ignace Bourget, convinced Ms. Cadron-Jetté to move to Montreal to found a religious community that would pursue her charitable work. Rosalie Cadron-Jetté became Sister Marie of the Nativity and continued her mission until her death in 1864, after which the congregation carried on her work.

Almost 100 years later, around 1964, school services were offered first to the children and then to the mothers. At first they were taught the essentials and eventually they were learning to type, about the plastic arts, and home economics. Despite the commendable and charitable efforts of the nuns, these young women would obtain low-paid, under-valued jobs. That schooling would last roughly 10 years.

In 1974, the Montreal Catholic School Commission, which is now the Montreal school board, opened a vocational school specifically for single mothers. École Rosalie-Jetté was established in east Montreal. It offered general studies and courses in child psychology, nutrition and sewing, the plastic arts, and typing. Five years later, a child care centre opened. The complete program of regular courses, from the first to the fifth year of secondary school, was first offered in the 1976-1977 school year. Professional staff and student services were later added, which brings us to the school we have today in 2012. Future prospects are a little more encouraging.

Thanks to the diversity of paths we have taken over the years, our students can obtain a high school diploma, which opens to door to cégeps and possibly universities. The students can acquire the necessary skills to take a training program and learn a trade. They can obtain a training certificate leading up to a semi-specialized trade and join the workforce.

As far as post-secondary education is concerned, we know that opportunity exceeds probability. A number of the students drop out of high school and before acquiring the necessary skills to take a training program. When they arrive at our school, they are already behind in their learning. They are frequently absent, including for reasons related to motherhood and a psychosocial experience that poses many challenges.

For a number of our students it is very difficult to get a well-paid job that would afford them housing and decent financial support for themselves and their child. Jobs stemming from employee training and semi-specialized jobs offer average or very low salaries. Jobs obtained after earning a bachelor's degree are better, but in those cases our students end up paying back student loans for years.

Second, I will speak about the programs and subsidies that are helping us right now.

While our students are with us, they receive financial help from one or more programs, depending on their individual situation. We have social assistance benefits, family allowances, a program for pregnant students and a program for young students with children. Some of these students have the help of a parent and some live with a partner who is working. Breakfast is available at school to all of them and their children for 25¢. Free snacks are offered twice a day, and our used clothing store offers new and used baby clothes for 10¢ an item.

We have a foundation that provides assistance to the students who need it most. Most of them are receiving enough money to pay for essentials. Our challenge is to help them learn to manage a budget on a very small income.

Finally, I would like to speak about personal finance education and make a recommendation. Many high school students do not want to learn about personal finances. Our students are no exception. They know that they have to manage their money but they cannot stand the subject. They are also at an age where many of them spend money to conform to the dictates of fashion. The adults who are in a position to offer them advice often have a tendency to pass value judgments when they see a mother with a new haircut who is late paying her daycare fees. It is very difficult not to reprove such behaviour, but doing so does not solve anything.

Most adolescents who become pregnant between the ages of 12 and 18 are already experiencing shame, isolation resulting from rejection, abuse and a lack of resources. They need more support that takes into account their reality rather than attempts to bring them onto one right path or another. They need their identity to be recognized.

In terms of a recommendation on improving economic prospects for Canadian girls, we believe, in light of what we have seen at École Rosalie-Jetté, that it would make sense to invest in personal finance education with a focus on specialized training for teachers who are open, inclusive and creative and on the creation of content adapted for this training, testing methods that respect the path these girls are on, and a participatory training plan.

In summary, we must make learning on subjects such as credit card interest, the differences between a personal loan and a line of credit, how to deal with banking documents received by mail, how to prepare an income tax return and how to manage a bank account dynamic and useful. Making students aware of these things at a young age can only help them to develop confidence in their personal worth and a conviction that they can access decent income.

That is all. Thank you.

4 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

Thank you, Ms. Dubé.

We will now move on to questions, starting with the government side.

Ms. Truppe, you have seven minutes.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Susan Truppe London North Centre, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

And thank you both for being here today.

Madame Dubé, thank you for sharing the history of your school. It sounds very interesting. You're doing a good job with some of the girls there.

We've heard from a number of witnesses that mentorship is important to at least overcome the obstacle of girls not seeing themselves in non-traditional or leadership roles. There are some differences of opinion as to what extent or how Status of Women Canada should be supporting such efforts.

What impact do you think mentorship would have on their future economic prosperity and economic leadership? And what role do you think Status of Women Canada could play in that effort?

4 p.m.

Educational Counsellor, Rosalie-Jetté School

Ellen Dubé

You are talking about mentorship programs. I get the impression this is somewhat related to the relationship that a student has with an adult throughout her personal and educational journey. When I talk about training in the field of finance, I am thinking specifically about people specialized in the field who could develop a training program catered to young, sensitive girls who do not need to be reprimanded or told that they could have done something else with their money. I am sure you are more familiar than I with the expression “creative banking”. This would be a very appropriate place to provide this type of education.

At school, we have a tutoring system. Every student who arrives at École Rosalie-Jetté is paired with a teacher at the school for the duration of her stay. We rarely address the issue of personal finances at length and no one is really trained to talk about it.

If you ask me how credit card interest rates work, then I will tell you about my own experience, but perhaps it would be better to consult someone who knows more about it.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Susan Truppe London North Centre, ON

Thank you.

When the Girls Action Foundation appeared before us, they recommended providing mentorship and diverse role models for girls growing up; educating boys and young men to think critically about gender expectations and to promote equality between the sexes; and implementing and expanding programs that reduce gender harassment, especially in educational institutions.

I'd like your thoughts on this approach. And are there any other factors that you think should be considered?

4 p.m.

Educational Counsellor, Rosalie-Jetté School

Ellen Dubé

Are you talking about trying to improve the financial prospects for the girls?

4 p.m.

Conservative

Susan Truppe London North Centre, ON

No, I don't so much mean the financial prospects, but more the mentorship and diverse role models for girls growing up, but also educating boys and young men so that they're involved in this as well from when the girls are young.

4:05 p.m.

Educational Counsellor, Rosalie-Jetté School

Ellen Dubé

Spouses who are still in a relationship with our students are always invited to the workshops we offer from time to time on parenting skills, for example. Very few attend because very few are present in the lives of these young girls. The few who are still around, work and therefore do not really come to the workshops. We see some on occasion, at the end of the day, when they come to pick up their partner and their child at the day care, but that is the minority.

If we invited the fathers or the new spouses of the mothers at our school—they are not necessarily in a relationship with the father of the child—we might be able to develop something. Very few of them come to the school or feel concerned. Most of our students are not in a relationship.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Susan Truppe London North Centre, ON

Thank you.

Madame Côté, how can men and boys be engaged by Status of Women Canada to improve prospects for Canadian girls with regard to economic prosperity, participation, and economic leadership?

4:05 p.m.

Women's and Human Rights Officer, National Programs Section, Public Service Alliance of Canada

Andrée Côté

I think men and boys are engaged by most of the ministries of this government, and I would hope that Status of Women Canada would focus on the advancement of girls.

There are very few programs left that actually focus on girls. If you look at the data and the statistics, there really is a systemic discrimination against girls.

So I would really hope that Status of Women Canada remains a gender-based organization that focuses on those of the gender who are actually victims of discrimination in this society.